English cricket rises from the Ashes – thanks to New Zealand
If England beat Australia this summer they will have the Kiwis to thank for inspiring a new attitude on and off the field
If England manage a miracle this summer and somehow wrest the Ashes from Australia's grasp, cricket fans should raise a glass to Brendon McCullum and his vibrant New Zealand touring side, for it is the Kiwis who have helped breathe new life into a moribund England team.
The fearless brand of cricket pedalled by the Kiwis has rubbed off on the English, who have gone toe-to-toe with the tourists, and that in turn has whetted the public's appetite for the summer's main event – a key consideration given cricket's declining media profile.
If England go about their business during the Ashes in the same manner as they have against New Zealand, the procession of Australian triumphs predicted by many may not actually materialise, and even if it does at least the English will go down fighting and people may actually watch. Cricket in England needed a jolt and New Zealand have provided it.
After a thrilling Test series, during which England produced perhaps their finest performance since the 2005 Ashes to win the first match, England went on to do something that many thought beyond them, and demolished one of the best one-day sides in the world with a display entirely free of the fear, negativity and cluttered thinking that has characterised English 50-over cricket for decades.
One swallow does not a summer make, but the omens are a lot better for England now than they were a month ago.
It is too much to expect Test captain Alastair Cook to completely adopt the freewheeling approach of McCullum this summer, but he has at least seen how it can work. England triumphed as they fought fire with fire in the first Test. But the second Test of the series, in which a brilliant New Zealand batting counter attack left England on the canvas, could prove just as instructive to Cook as he considers his options against Australia.
In the one-day arena too there is little doubt that New Zealand have inspired England. The appalling capitulation during the World Cup helped set the tone for the new approach that paid off so handsomely at Edgbaston. There is little doubt that Eoin Morgan's England wanted to lay down some kind of marker, to prove to the Kiwis that they too could play their brand of swashbuckling cricket.
It is hard to believe that any of this would have happened had England's early season tourists been a side other than New Zealand. Would any other team have arrived in England in early May with such a positive attitude. Would Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan or the West Indies have posed such a challenge?
The highlights of a drawn Test series in the Caribbean in April were a 384th Test wicket for James Anderson, a win in the second Test and an on-field spat between Ben Stokes and Marlon Samuels, which at least hinted at some fire in England's bellies, but hardly suggested England's recent resurgence.
But New Zealand under McCullum are an inspirational team. They have notched up an appearance in the World Cup final and seven unbeaten Test series, notes David Hopps of Cricinfo. "These are considerable gains... England have observed them, looked deep into their soul and been perplexed by how much they wish to emulate them."
Could it be that McCullum has changed not only New Zealand but also England? "No captain of recent times has built a team more in their own image," writes Jarrod Kimber, also of Cricinfo. "McCullum drinks his own Kool-Aid, and everyone else follows. McCullum runs into burning houses, and everyone follows. McCullum attacks. New Zealand follows."
So, too, do England.
Talking about the One Day performance BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew praised England's "very different" attitude, but his words could be applied to the Test side also.
After a summer that began with backroom farce overshadowed by the spectre of Kevin Pietersen, New Zealand's snappy presence has prompted talk of a new era, and that is just what England cricket needs.