It only seems to be a couple of months since I suggested on this website that the answer to England’s captaincy problems might be Sam Billings; and that Ben Stokes couldn’t be expected to take it on after his recent mental health problems, and the risk of undermining his own game.

We have just watched a team – fundamentally the same timid outfit that was trounced in Australia and West Indies – take Test champions New Zealand to the cleaners in three matches. Each of the games fluctuated in the fashion of the greatest Test matches and each was evenly poised until England’s batsmen embarked on their monumental fourth innings chases.  

Stokes has been magnificent. He has rightly stated that if cricket isn’t entertaining the boards have no right to charge for admission, and he has matched those words uncompromisingly with his approach. The players have been enjoying themselves – apparent from the body language so different from the hangdog losers they were so very recently. The confidence he has shown in his own leadership has rubbed off on them and they have been transformed. Who says that cricket isn’t played mainly in the mind?

The new skipper has, of course, made the odd tactical mistake – generally in the cause of trying something a bit off the wall – but his team didn’t wilt in the field even when chasing large New Zealand scores, and quite often his eccentric looking ideas brought a result. And some of his actions have been brilliant, if only for the message implied to the players involved: bringing Matt Parkinson on on a seamer’s paradise  just in time to take his first test wicket; transforming Jack Leach into a match-winning spinner just by showing a bit of faith. Root would have preferred someone – anyone – else.

Above all, however, Stokes should be commended for saying whatever he said to the death-defying Bairstow and giving him a definite slot in the batting order, even if it did involve the unlikely expedient of sending Pope in first down (which hasn’t worked out to badly). Stokes has also put smiles on the faces of Anderson and Broad who hadn’t seemed to be enjoying themselves much, and of Root himself whose carefree batting has been a reward in itself.

Credit, I am sure, also goes to McCullum, and to be fair to Rob Key also, for this imaginative appointment. But it was Stokes who did it in the dressing room and on the filed. Hallelujah.

No doubt we should be bracing ourselves for a few more spectacular collapses, and perhaps we should learn to live with them. There were enough calls for Bairstow’s head after the first Test when he was out rashly for single figure scores in both innings. Look what happened there. So let us just enjoy it and be entertained. Morgan’s team has succeeded through a similar approach; the occasional banana skin is part of the deal.

It will be fascinating to see what the selectors do next. Persevere with Crawley? Obviously he was told to cast of his cares and go for it; there is a lot of talent there to work with. Stick with the winning combination? Abandon the rotation policy?

And here’s a conundrum for them. Imagine (if only) a situation where Anderson, Broad, Archer, Woakes, Sam Curran,  Potts, Woods, Saqib, both Overtons (no doubt Toby Roland Jones would be able to suggest a few more names) were all fit and available.  Which way would that go?

John Bartholomew


  • Perhaps Jamie Overton could open? He has a much better technique than Crawley does….

  • It has been a brilliant series, with every England player save Crawley having some cause for pride in their performance. I understand why Crawley retains his slot for the one off game against India, but if he is still the side for the SA series I will regard that as an absolute outrage. Crawley the opener now averages less in that role than Mike Brearley without the latter’s compensating virtue.

  • He and McCullum must be applauded for instilling self belief into a previously nervous outfit. I just hope there’s enough insight there to understand that there’s more to test match entertainment than scoring boundaries. Don’t want test cricket dumbed down to an extension of 20-20, with a one dimensional approach which has no room for context. India will be a tougher test as they have better individual players. Stokes’ batting in this series has been disappointing for me. He’s a better player than we’ve seen, capable of making big match defining innings. His batting against De Grandholme was braindead. There’s positive, aggressive and suicidal. It was a great series to watch but we rode our considerable luck throughout. That won’t always be the case. Good to see us not so reliant on Root though. Would like to see Hameed back for Crawley, now he’s in the runs again. Still don’t rate Pope at 3, he was lucky the ball didn’t swing for New Zealand, as he looks pretty clueless to me against a moving ball. Overton looked ok with the bat but was asked to bowl short for some reason and was largely wasted as a result, a tactical mistake made by both sides at Headingley.

  • Not sure you can claim this was “fundamentally the same outfit” as the side that lost in the West Indies when Broad and Anderson were both missing from that series!

  • I should have said that New Zealand are absolutely my favourite test cricket opponents. The games seem to be played in such good spirits, are often give excelllent contests.

  • Wherefore the Baz doubters now?

    Hate to say it, hated to see it (from NZ) – but told you so

    • Well, I can’t deny he’s done well so far. Shows just how little Silverwood was getting from the same players. The test, however, will come against tougher opposition. All out attack won’t be sustainable indefinitely against the likes of Pat Cummins next year.

      • Indeed – the stars aligned in ways they wont always.

        The English Cricket media are their eternally entertaining self though – absolutely no chance of any reversal now …. till the next loss when they will pivot 180 degrees and it will be the end of days. They cant find a happy, reasonable middle can they?

        • The media have always been reactive in sport, eager to make things as provocative as they can for the reader. They’ll change with the wind to generate their own agenda. The test for the present regime will begin when their gung ho batting backfires. Do they have a back up plan or are they a one trick pony.

          • Specifically the English Cricket media – other countries dont seem quite as extreme. NZ cricket media seem almost relieved normal BlackCaps service has resumed …

        • Totally agree. Even the best ones are currently celebrating like the same structural problems don’t exist. I guess it would seem churlish not to celebrate – at least while the going is good.

  • Firstly, a disclaimer: I’ve watched virtually none of this since the First Test. I’m fed up watching home teams beating up visitors who have every disadvantage (key players getting injured, even more key players denied proper preparation by “positive tests”, bizarre selections compounded by apparent mis-readings of every pitch).

    Those who are crowing should take a few deep breaths and engage brain. This is going to confirm the ECB in evey crackpot idea they have. Firstly, that management is all important. The same players are transformed by the Key-McCullum-Stokes’ positivity? I’m not saying management makes no difference but does anyone really believe that England were that bad and are now that good? Does Root seem negative? He must either be completely different as captain than he is as batsman – or he was never really in control? Secondly, that the CC is rubbish. Silverwood won the CC and flopped as coach; McCullum walks in from the IPL with no coaching experience and is apparently brilliant. Thirdly, that Test cricket has to become a kind of extended ODI. I’m all for entertainment but it isn’t just bashing boundaries and bouncers.

    The series recalled two previous series – 1) 2004 when England beat up a weak NZ attack 2) 2015 when Bayliss started and all the talk then was about attacking cricket and playing without fear. How did that turn out in the long run?

    The big pluses have been Potts, Foakes and settling Bairstow into his correct role. Most of the big issues are still there: the top three looks wrong, the seamers are aging/injured, the spin department still looks iffy. I still suspect they’ll recall Buttler if they can find any way of justifying it.

    Is this a team that can challenge in India and Australia? McCullum never captained in India and lost heavily in his only series in Australia. NZ could do that with their lack of resources – but it shouldn’t be acceptable for England. Are foundations being laid for a team that can compete against Ashwin/Patel/Jadeja on a bunsen or Cummins/Hazlewood/Lyon at the Gabba?

    • I agree Simon. The performances were excellent in this series but the future is still worrying. All the best batsmen are over 30. Sorry! Lots of people I like and respect now praising the championship as if the current set up is perfect. Of course, that’s exactly what the ECB wants. The message will be: ‘look we’re brilliant even with the Hundred’.

    • The one massive lesson I have learnt about sport as a fan and amateur player is you should over celebrate wins and downplay losses. Life is short and if you get a chance to enjoy yourself after a good win you need to take it. Similarly if its going wrong, it’s not worth worrying about its only sport.

      There is still a lot of stuff wrong. The top 3 is terrible and there are major structural issues. But that is stokes and management to worry about. Sure we can debate it but anyone dwelling on these instead of enjoying what was a fantastic series would do themselves a huge favour by changing their mentality. This applies to a lot of other things in life as well.

      Sure the new brand may well fall apart when we play away or against a good team. But why not enjoy the good instead of worrying about something that might not happen.

      • Mike,
        I completely agree with you. It’s the only sane approach to take not just sport but to life in general !

    • It remains to be seen how long England can keep this up but “does anyone really believe that England were that bad and are now that good?”–that’s pretty much a statement of fact isn’t it. They hadn’t won for a year and spent much of that time being trounced and then won a series against a fine, if partially out-of-form, bowling attack by scoring a number of runs to win that no test team ever has done three times in a series. And they did it with essentially the same personnel that they were picking when they couldn’t buy a win or score a run.

      That looks to me rather like a new management succeeded in motivating them much better than the old one–which is what a lot of players have said. It’s not about whether Root was positive or negative, it’s about how good he (and Silverwood) was as a motivator and leader of players. I suspect that may be the difference between McCullum and Bayliss (and Stokes and Root for that matter): Bayliss and Root seemed to create a relaxed environment that was nice to play in, but were somewhere on the spectrum between ultra-relaxed and a bit soft–which might work for some teams but not for this England team. McCullum and Stokes seem at least so far to be motivating players much more actively (and I think that’s the answer to John’s point about Crawley–to me it’s similar to the comments we heard about Lees and Foakes after the Lord’s test).

      It’s somewhat confirmed a feeling I had about the structural issues in English cricket, which is that the defeatism and whingeing about them is probably as much of a problem as the issues themselves. The complaining we hear from county captains whenever their team has to bat on a challenging wicket (James Vince this week) doesn’t speak of a mindset which is likely to produce a successful test team. If they can’t bat against one excellent spinner at Chelmsfordobad, heaven knows what they’ll be like on a raging turner in Bengaluru!

  • Whilst England’s new approach to Test match batting is exciting and exhilarating, we should slightly temper our expectations until we meet better opponents. I thought New Zealand were particularly poor with only Mitchell and Blundell turning up on the batting front and Trent Boult on the bowling front. I thought Southee was very poor and Kyle Jameson clearly wasn’t fit.
    I think we should wait until the South Africa series to really judge the new approach. South Africa will prove to be much stronger and they need the points for World Test Championship. I thought Potts bowled very well, lets hope he stays fit and one day we might see Wood and Robinson firing on all cylinders. Good start though.

  • Worth pointing out here, the intriguing thing about personality (and associated media coverage). For all the risks, Stokes may be just the man to lead the English team out of the doldrums – this might not just be a flash in the pan although tougher tests to come. But I hope its not off-field people that derail him.

    Compare and contrast with NZ’s all-rounder, De Grandhomme. I don’t think anyone sees Colin as a Captain prospect. And he has nowhere near the profile nor the media interest. And that ‘media celebrity status’ is intriguing, as CDG is statistically at least the equal of Stokes in Tests – a significantly better Test batting average, the same Test bowling average. (ODIs show Stokes well ahead batting, CDG ahead bowling, interestingly).

    My point there is about media/public pressure – despite the similar performances, Stokes has far more riding on his shoulders, a much brighter spotlight on everything he does. I hope he can handle it and wear it as motivation.

  • I must admit that I was amazed to hear McCullum heaping praise on Crawley after this Test, with the clear implication he will keep his place. Whilst the ball that got him (and Lees and Pope) in the first innings would have got most, I did think that after watching his woeful dismissal in the second that I had probably seen his last shot in Test cricket. I really hope that BM is right and that Crawley repays his confidence with runs.

  • Credit also to Joe Root who has been very supportive of Stokes and the new management team. It was also nice to see Root encouraging the younger members of the squad.

  • So already Bavuma is ruled out of SA’s tour of England? There seems to be a bit of a pattern of prized assets sitting out series (usually away) when their team is destined for a designated shellacking.

    TBC this is not saying SA would win with Bavuma or that I think he’s that good a player – however CSA have an enormous amount invested in him However in business, nobody drains prize assets on hopeless causes that you don’t particularly care about.

    • Would this be the SA who are five places above England in the WTC and have more wins in fewer than half the number of games?!

      I’d be surprised if CSA didn’t care about winning a test series in England, especially since it might go a long way to securing them a place in the WTC final.

      Of course what’s happened for those without the fevered imagination of a teenage conspiracy theorist is that he’s picked up an injury. It’s sport. It happens.


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