Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes bring jolt of excitement to England’s new Test era | Cricket News

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England fans have had to endure a harrowing year of Test cricket but the appointments of Ben Stokes as captain and Brendon McCullum as coach pave way for excitement – watch England vs New Zealand live on Sky Sports Cricket and Main Event from 10am on Thursday

Last Updated: 31/05/22 3:44pm

Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum smile during a practice session at Lord's

Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum smile during a practice session at Lord’s

When England played New Zealand at Lord’s last summer, caution took over.

Set 273 from 75 overs to win on the final day following Black Caps captain Kane Williamson’s bold declaration, England were nowhere near as bold, showing no appetite whatsoever for a run chase.

Then-skipper Joe Root and then-coach Chris Silverwood perhaps felt a line-up routinely shredded in India at the backend of the previous winter, and now shorn of Ben Stokes due to injury, had no chance of victory. Perhaps they were concerned of the consequences should things go wrong.

If a similar opportunity presents itself this year, the attitude should be markedly different. For this is the Stokes and Brendon McCullum era. Backward steps are unlikely be tolerated. They have never been part of Stokes and McCullum’s make-ups.

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In his unveiling as England’s new captain, Stokes spoke about his desire for his team to comprise of “selfless cricketers who make decisions based on winning games”.

McCullum, meanwhile, said he wanted to eliminate what he viewed as an “English fear of failure” when he was presented to the media for the first time since being named Test coach.

McCullum and Stokes’ appointments come after a dejecting period for English Test cricket – 11 defeats and just one win 17 Test matches, with batting collapses rife.

A new era for English cricket begins as England take on World Test champions New Zealand in the first Test at Lord's on Thursday

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A new era for English cricket begins as England take on World Test champions New Zealand in the first Test at Lord’s on Thursday

A new era for English cricket begins as England take on World Test champions New Zealand in the first Test at Lord’s on Thursday

Stokes’ predecessor Root must have become increasingly deflated as rest and rotation often deprived him of his best team all while he had the pressures of propping up a batting line-up singlehandedly. McCullum’s predecessor Silverwood, meanwhile, seemed far from inspirational.

But with two of the game’s great galvanisers now in charge – Stokes on the field and McCullum facilitating behind the scenes – there has been a much-needed jolt of excitement.

New England Test coach McCullum hopes his team can help restore the popularity of red-ball cricket

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New England Test coach McCullum hopes his team can help restore the popularity of red-ball cricket

New England Test coach McCullum hopes his team can help restore the popularity of red-ball cricket

England fans become accustomed to a feeling of dread and resignation heading into Test matches of late. They have watched games unfold from behind their fingers. With McCullum and Stokes at the helm, they should be watching with their eyes wide open, not wanting to miss a minute.

McCullum said: “Ben plays the game with the right spirit and for the right reasons. His style of play very much aligns to mine. I’m sure it is going to be very watchable.” Watchable, yes, but that does not mean wild. McCullum and Stokes are attacking cricketers but thinking ones, too.

A new era for English cricket begins as England take on World Test champions New Zealand in the first Test at Lord's on Thursday

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A new era for English cricket begins as England take on World Test champions New Zealand in the first Test at Lord’s on Thursday

A new era for English cricket begins as England take on World Test champions New Zealand in the first Test at Lord’s on Thursday

McCullum, talking to Sky Sports’ Michael Atherton, said he enjoys his persona of a “reckless gambler” and even self-deprecatingly called himself a “T20 cavalier”. But he added: “I knew what I was doing in the game. I put in a lot of work.”

The 40-year-old is the owner of the fastest hundred in Test cricket – a 54-ball effort against Australia in his final game for New Zealand in 2016 – but managed 12 centuries all told in his Test career, including three double centuries and a triple. Yep, he knew what he was doing in the game.

McCullum says Ben Stokes is the right man to captain the side

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McCullum says Ben Stokes is the right man to captain the side

McCullum says Ben Stokes is the right man to captain the side

We also saw how cerebrally Stokes plotted his way through his two most memorable innings for England thus far – his 84 not out in the 2019 World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s and unbeaten 135 in the Headingley Ashes Test against Australia later that summer.

Stokes’ World Cup final knock helped England cap a startling white-ball turnaround as they went from a disastrous first-round exit in 2015 to 50-over champions four years later.

Nasser Hussain says England need to get runs on the board early to win games and not just rely on individual brilliance from Ben Stokes and Joe Root

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Nasser Hussain says England need to get runs on the board early to win games and not just rely on individual brilliance from Ben Stokes and Joe Root

Nasser Hussain says England need to get runs on the board early to win games and not just rely on individual brilliance from Ben Stokes and Joe Root

But McCullum played an instrumental role in its initial development with England limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan saying their new, attacking direction had been inspired in large part by the way McCullum’s New Zealand had played during their run to the 2015 final.

That included an eight-wicket demolition of England in Wellington as McCullum crunched 77 off just 25 balls to take the Black Caps past England’s paltry 123 all out with a whopping 226 balls to spare. The run chase done in just 12.2 overs. England obliterated.

There is no shortage of talent, maybe guys who need freeing up somewhat from a mentality point of view. Freedom is about mindset freedom, not talking about freedom to go out there and slog the first ball.

Brendon McCullum on England’s Test team

Four months later, England’s new white-ball era began with them topping 400 in a one-day international against McCullum’s New Zealand.

If McCullum’s England could begin their new red-ball era by topping 400 in a Test match it would be a tremendous start, such has been the rarity of that during a period of alarming batting brittleness.

That is possibly the main reason why the excitement surrounding Stokes and McCullum should be tempered with a healthy dose of realism. Instant results would be nice but perhaps should not be expected.

Look back at Ben Stokes' incredible fastest century at Lord's against New Zealand in 2015

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Look back at Ben Stokes’ incredible fastest century at Lord’s against New Zealand in 2015

Look back at Ben Stokes’ incredible fastest century at Lord’s against New Zealand in 2015

To start with, England are facing the reigning World Test champions. New Zealand are an excellent side, even if they did not quite look that way when reduced to 19-6 in a tour match last weekend that they went on to lose.

England’s bowling attack has also been ravaged by injury and illness. While their two best in that department – James Anderson and Stuart Broad – are back after being jettisoned for the West Indies tour in March, their three briskest – Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone – remain sidelined.

He’s one of those real characters of the game for who the harder it is, the more they step up. Some people are born with those qualities, and I think he’s certainly one of those guys.

Brendon McCullum on Ben Stokes

McCullum, too, has readily accepted his appointment as Test coach is a “risk” considering his only previous coaching experience has come in white-ball cricket, in the Caribbean Premier League with Trinbago Knight Riders and Indian Premier League with Kolkata Knight Riders.

He also says the role is a “risk” for him as he gives up a “varied life” to focus solely on taking England out of the red-ball doldrums: “It is a risk but you have to take risks in life and I thought it was worth a crack.”

Risk over caution. It’s an attitude England fans can get behind. Let the McCullum and Stokes era begin.

Watch England take on New Zealand in the first Test, from Lord’s, live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event from 10am on Thursday.



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