In Focus

England cricket: the Ben Stokes era gets off to a ‘perfect’ start

Ex-skipper Joe Root was a ‘totem of strength’ in Test win over New Zealand at Lord’s

During the final, torrid months of his tenure as England captain, Joe Root cut an increasingly careworn figure, said Mike Atherton in The Times. He would answer questions robotically, as if drawing on pre-scripted excuses. The captaincy – he has subsequently admitted – was proving “unhealthy” for his mental well-being. So what a relief it was last Sunday to see him back to doing what he does best: “scoring a mountain of runs” for his country, and looking happy while doing so. His “superbly crafted” unbeaten fourth innings century, the 26th of his Test career, brought to an end a “dismal run of one win in 17 Tests”, and guided England to victory at Lord’s in their first Test against New Zealand. It also ensured that England’s new captain, Ben Stokes, got off to a “perfect, winning start”. After its recent travails, “English cricket needed a moment like this”. 

Uplifting though the victory was, “it would be a stretch to claim this is a corner turned for England”, said Ali Martin in The Guardian. Familiar failings were on show at Lord’s – including a dramatic first innings batting collapse – and with the notable exception of Matt Potts, who “enjoyed a promising seven-wicket debut”, there were few notable contributions from younger players. Moreover, Stokes’s “momentum-shifting half-century in the chase” very nearly didn’t happen at all. With his score on just one, the England captain had his stumps knocked over, and began to trudge back to the pavilion – only to be recalled when it emerged that a no-ball had been bowled. But for that giant slice of luck, England would have been on 77-5, chasing a well-nigh impossible target of 277. 

As it is, England have something solid to build on, said Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph. And most of the credit must go to Root, who once again proved the one “totem of strength” in an otherwise fragile side. Pride and satisfaction were “etched across his face” as he raised his bat to celebrate his century on Sunday, drinking in the applause that rang out “from every corner of this hallowed ground”. When he made it to three figures, Root also passed another landmark: he became only the second English player, after Alastair Cook, to accumulate 10,000 Test runs, and by a quirk of fate, did so at the exact same age: 31 years and 157 days. 

Hard to say which of them will be remembered as the greater batsman, but the signs are it could well be Root. By the time he was 31, “Cook’s powers were beginning to attenuate”, whereas Root appears to be still in his prime: given how infrequently he gets injured, he could well be playing another five years. Stokes has a hugely tough task ahead of him – but it will be made incomparably easier by having “somebody of Root’s pedigree at his disposal”. 

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