England and New Zealand promise more thrills as Ben Stokes eyes more momentum

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England players (from left) Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Alex Lees, Jonny Bairstow and James Anderson during practice (Action Images via Reuters)
England players (from left) Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Alex Lees, Jonny Bairstow and James Anderson during practice (Action Images via Reuters)

They promised an “attractive brand of cricket” and Brendon McCullum and England certainly delivered that in a breathtaking first Test victory over New Zealand at Lord’s.

This exhilarating interpretation of Test cricket will hardly give Australia or India a fright, but the Ben Stokes era provided enough charm to a previously disillusioned fanbase after the dismal return of one victory in 17 matches.

It was a typically passionate display, with flashes of real quality between signs of vulnerability. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, stalwarts for so long with the ball, soldier on after typically devastating spells to open up the summer and dent the Black Caps’ hopes from the outset. England’s strength, at times, over the rotten end to the Joe Root era has been their bowling. The sparkle seen from debutant Matt Potts, who claimed seven wickets in the match, is certain to provide McCullum and Stokes, who is a doubt to bowl in the second Test, plenty of encouragement.

“It was pretty much a dream debut for him,” explained Stokes, before elaborating on the new role he has tasked the 23-year-old with, while complimenting the legendary Anderson and Broad.

“I obviously had to use him in a slightly different role because he normally takes the new ball for Durham, but he came on and I think he took a wicket three or four times in his first over when I asked him to do it, so I’ll be looking to use him in the same way, to come in and affect the game and hopefully try and take a wicket when we need one."

England coach Brendon McCullum chats with Robert Key, managing director of England men’s cricket (Getty)
England coach Brendon McCullum chats with Robert Key, managing director of England men’s cricket (Getty)

So if one side of Stokes’s team is in rude health, it should be remembered that Rome was not built in a day. After all, McCullum and Stokes have been brutally honest about the need for patience. A cohesive batting unit may take some time to blossom while picking up several scars before resisting the finest bowlers Test cricket has to offer. But in that time England have a modern great in Root, who has shown dignity and humility resigning as captain while immediately engaging with the task at hand. Root batted splendidly and surged past the 10,000 Test runs barrier to spark debate about his standing in the history of the game. It was the least he deserved after absorbing the majority of the criticism and intense scrutiny in recent times, despite the fault often lying elsewhere.

New Zealand evidently squandered a chance to seize a first victory at Lord’s since 1999 and their personality suggests this near-miss will only galvanise this group in pursuit of levelling the series at Trent Bridge.

“This team has done such a good job over a long period of time, we’re not going to panic after just one game,” Kyle Jamieson said when reflecting on the loss.

Coach McCullum (left) and Ben Stokes chat during a nets session (PA)
Coach McCullum (left) and Ben Stokes chat during a nets session (PA)

England’s nightmare in recent years has often been about passing up crucial moments as much as suffering a comprehensive beatdown from the opposition. So it was pleasing that Stokes, while not at his magnificent best, showed a ruthless streak that will need to become a symbol of this team if they are to return to prominence.

The reprieve after being bowled for one when it was confirmed that Colin de Grandhomme had bowled a no-ball was gleefully converted into 53 more runs and a 90-run partnership between current and former skipper.

England should be wary though, with the Black Caps certainly able to adjust as they bid to fix a desperately disappointing batting display.

There will be no shortage of candidates to add that much-needed resilience that was sorely lacking last week, save for Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell’s 195-run partnership. Kane Williamson, in particular, after scores of two and 15, will look to bolster his career average of 37 against England, given his lofty Test average of 53.

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson during practice at Trent Bridge (AFP via Getty)
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson during practice at Trent Bridge (AFP via Getty)

But the conditions and form of both sides with the ball could extend the run of modest totals with the bat, especially with England able to call upon Jack Leach once more.

The spinner suffered a freak injury in the outfield on day one and later displayed concussion symptoms, with Matt Parkinson stepping in. But after one wicket in the entire match, Leach is back in what promises to be a valuable opportunity with last week’s brief outing just his first Test since 2019. With two evenly-matched sides, England will hope the added dynamic with the ball can prove decisive in taking an insurmountable 2-0 lead.

"We’re very evenly matched, especially in English conditions,” Stokes acknowledged. “Any overhead (cover) suits both our bowling attacks. We know that every time we go up against New Zealand it’s never an easy ride. The game pretty much went to the wire until day four and we don’t expect anything less.”

Styles make fights then, meaning more breathtaking action is in store in Nottingham as England aim to consolidate early momentum in the McCullum and Stokes era.

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