England’s spectacular cricket win: ‘an unstoppable tidal wave’
Since being appointed England captain, Ben Stokes has ‘revolutionised’ how his team plays
England’s fourth innings run chase in the third Test against New Zealand this week was never going to finish with a “dribbled single into the leg side”, said Mike Atherton in The Times. That just “wouldn’t have been fitting” for the new approach initiated by England’s new head coach, New Zealander Brendon McCullum, and its new captain, Ben Stokes. Instead, England sealed their 3-0 series victory with Jonny Bairstow belting the gentle off-spin of Michael Bracewell over long on and into Headingley’s Football Stand for six.
Set a not insubstantial 296 for victory, England had knocked off the runs for the loss of three wickets, in a mere 54.2 overs. Bairstow, in particular, had seemed a man “in a rush”: joining Joe Root at the crease in the first over of the fifth morning, following Ollie Pope’s dismissal for 82, he “hurried the match to its conclusion in a blizzard of boundaries”. In the process, he struck 50 runs off 30 deliveries – missing by two balls Ian Botham’s record for England’s fastest Test half-century.
It was a display that encapsulated England’s relentlessly aggressive approach throughout the series, which has seen them three times chase down totals of more than 250. “New Zealand must have felt like they had been hit by an unstoppable tidal wave.”
Ben Stokes has ‘revolutionised’ his team
Since being appointed England captain at the start of the summer, Ben Stokes has “revolutionised” how his team plays Test cricket, said Nick Hoult in The Daily Telegraph. No previous England captain has “stamped a mark” so quickly. What’s especially remarkable is that this transformation has been achieved without any big changes in personnel: by and large, this is the “same group of players who crumbled under the merest hint of pressure in the West Indies in March” – and who had managed just one win in their previous 17 Tests.
What Stokes and McCullum have done so effectively is transform the mindset of their players. Both are “clear communicators” who speak “in words every player understands”. They have issued their team with clear instructions: batsmen must be positive, and “look to score” at every opportunity; bowlers must “bowl attacking lengths”, and not worry too much about conceding runs. As a result, for the first time in years, this is an England Test team with “a distinct identity”.
Fully backing players
Also crucial to the success of the new regime has been its philosophy of fully backing players, said Tim Wigmore in the same paper. In Australia last winter, batsmen were shown videos of their dismissals. The Stokes way, by contrast, is “to focus on what players can do”, not dwell on their past failures. And this has had a galvanising effect on team members. Pope, promoted to number three, has for the first time looked like a Test batsman. Bairstow, given licence to follow his attacking instincts, has smashed two match-winning centuries.
However, no England cricketer has undergone more of a transformation than left-arm spinner Jack Leach. Having been in and out of the side for years – and rarely selected at home – Leach all of a sudden found himself being endorsed by Stokes as a “bowler who could help win England Test matches in all climes”. And he fully repaid the confidence of his captain: at Headingley, he took five wickets in each innings – becoming just the fifth England spinner in the past 45 years to take ten wickets in a home Test.
Eoin Morgan’s retirement
It was in many ways apt that the day after England completed their series win, Eoin Morgan – England’s white-ball captain for the past seven years – announced his retirement from international cricket, said Paul Newman in the Daily Mail. For what England are doing under Stokes is “bringing the same dynamic, high-octane approach to Test cricket that Morgan pioneered in the white-ball game”.
The two revolutions even started in similar circumstances: Morgan’s began in 2015, after “the desperate low” of that year’s World Cup, and fully got into its groove during that summer’s one-day series against New Zealand, which England won 3-2. Adopting an “ultra-positive” style in the “three-dimensional game that is Test cricket” is certainly no easy feat – and England, who at times rode their luck against New Zealand, must expect some “bumps in the road”.
One thing, however, is undeniable: “something seismic and significant has begun in this series”. Watching England over the coming months is going to be a lot of fun.