A new era dawns at Lord's as Stokes inherits Flintoff's crown
Swashbuckling cricket played in front of genuine fans sets the tone for England's summer
England's cricketers opened what felt like a new chapter for the team with a thrilling win over New Zealand in the first Test at Lord's – one which banished talk of ECB governance and begged the question, Kevin who?
The final day, played out in front of a raucous bank holiday crowd, was reminiscent of the summer of 2005 as England surged to a 124-run victory in one of the most exciting Tests for a decade.
That England conjured up such a memorable triumph is remarkable considering Alastair Cook's men found themselves at 30-4 in their first innings, conceded 500 runs and a first innings lead of 134 to New Zealand and then limped to 74-3 in their second innings.
Each time they fought their way back into the match and finally, after setting New Zealand 345 to win, they administered the killer blow as the visitors were dismissed for 220, with only 9.3 overs remaining in the match.
The end, when it came, was fitting. Moeen Ali took a spectacular diving catch at third man to dismiss New Zealand's final batsman, Trent Boult, off the bowling of Stuart Broad. Had Lord's had a roof, it would have lost it.
"What an end to a magnificent Test match," says Michael Atherton in The Times, who acknowledges New Zealand's swashbuckling approach was as important as England's in making the game such a spectacle.
This Test was "one of the best, played with verve and skill and enterprise by both teams and in tremendous spirit as well," he says. And as for the crowd: "They loved it, genuinely loved it, sending a message that — corny this but true — the way the game is played remains as important as its outcome."
It was a "Test match of regeneration", says Scyld Berry in the Daily Telegraph, not just for England but also for the five-day format.
And despite some wonderful contributions from several England players – Joe Root's two half centuries, Alastair Cook's 163 in the second innings, Mark Woods's promising debut – "there was no question who was the man", says Berry.
Ben Stokes, who led England's first innings counter attack with 92 off 94 balls, went one better in the second innings with the fastest ever Test century at Lords off just 85 balls, and then ripped the heart out of New Zealand's batting by dismissing Kane Williamson and Brendan McCullum with consecutive balls on the last day "was an elemental force at work".
"Around such a talismanic allrounder as Stokes an excellent Test team can be built," says Berry. "England's chemistry is now right... and the whole team has zest – not mere energy, but spontaneous zest, born of excitement at all the possibilities."
No-one has it more than Stokes, though, after he produced what the Telegraph calls "the best all-round performance by an England Test player since Flintoff laid waste to Australia at Edgbaston in 2005".
Vic Marks in The Guardian goes further. "There were moments in this Test when Stokes made Freddie Flintoff look like John the Baptist," he says. But he also sounds a warning that England's new fearlessness may not always pay off. "Here Stokes was unfettered and dangerous. Just do not expect too much consistency. That can't be part of the current deal. Be grateful, not greedy."