Of all the statements made by Brendon McCullum after becoming Test coach, one stood out as especially improbable.
He wanted, he said, to get England playing a brand of cricket that would reconnect with the public.Since they had won one of their previous 17 Tests, it seemed his sunny optimism and boundless positivity had finally met their match.
Yesterday morning, as England added 96 to their overnight 264 for six, the swift progress confirmed what Lord’s and Trent Bridge had told us.McCullum’s mantras are no tea-towel homilies: they mean business. And if you can’t go towards the fear, he may not be the coach for you.
Brandon McCullum has revitalised England’s Test side after just three matches in charge
Ben Stokes (left) and McCullum have completely changed England’s approach to the game
Under Chris Silverwood and Joe Root, England aimed to score big-first innings runs, then take 20 wickets — a formula so obvious it barely required stating. By the end, as their team fell short on both counts, it sounded poignantly delusional.
Under McCullum and Ben Stokes, the emphasis has been less about the scoreboard than the vibes — the idea being that the scoreboard then takes care of itself.
England’s run-rate in this series is 4.40 an over, which used to be considered a decent lick in one-day cricket.Only once, at home against a weak Bangladesh side in 2005, have they scored more quickly across a Test series. And on only one other occasion — against West Indies in 2007 — have they managed more than four an over.
Almost overnight, the mood has changed, from crestfallen to cavalier.Encouraged to consider themselves entertainers as much as cricketers, England’s batsmen have dared their supporters to ignore them. It has not been easy.
At Lord’s, they knocked off 277. At Trent Bridge, it was 299 in 50 overs.At Headingley, thanks to Jonny Bairstow and Jamie Overton, the base metal of 55 for six became the gold of 360.
Since McCullum took over, England score faster than any other side in world cricket
Stokes has hit 10 sixes, and Bairstow seven. And Slot Gacor Terbaru if Bairstow had already scored Test centuries this year in Sydney and Antigua, they came at strike-rates of 71 and 54.His hundreds in Nottingham and Leeds have come at 147 and 103.
Stokes may be the embodiment of McCullum’s plan, waltzing down the wicket on Friday to lift his third ball from Tim Southee into the Howard Stand.
But Bairstow has been its greatest beneficiary, a player persuaded that — even though he turns 33 in September — his best years lie ahead.
On the third morning of this engrossing Test, it was clear that others had benefitted too.
After Lord’s, Stokes suggested England would have sent out Stuart Broad for a thrash if they had lost a sixth wicket on the fourth evening.For a player who hadn’t passed 15 in any of his previous 19 Test innings, this felt like a leap of faith.
Now, in three balls, Broad thrashed Trent Boult — dismantler of England’s top order — over extra cover, mid-off and down the ground for four, four and six.He finished with a 38-ball 42, his highest score for two years, and dominated an eighth-wicket stand with Bairstow of 55. By then, England had gone past New Zealand’s 329, having taken 61 overs to score what their opponents made in 117.3.
Both of Jonny Bairstow’s Test centuries this series have come at a strike rate of over 100
Stuart Broad made his highest Test score in two years against New Zealand on Saturday
‘Bazball’, they’re calling it, in homage to the coach’s nickname.And, after the last couple of years, it’s true that this feels like a different sport altogether.
McCullum’s pre-series musings also included the point — perhaps easier for an outsider to make — that Test cricket needed a strong England.If the five-day game withers in this country, he argued, there would be little hope for it elsewhere.
In that respect, McCullum’s mission has gone beyond transforming the fortunes of one country, and stretched into the realms of saving Test cricket itself.
Again, it’s the kind of perspective that can easily tip over into sanctimony.But McCullum, for so long a poster-boy for the white-ball game, is genuine in his desire to prevent the Test format becoming a museum piece — as it is threatening to do in many parts of the world. And if England’s new approach obliges other sides to up their own tempo, Test cricket may be able to sit more easily in an ecosystem dominated by franchise tournaments and arcane number-crunching.
Central to McCullum’s vision is the idea that nothing is possible without enjoyment, and enjoyment is impossible without self-belief.On that front, Stokes has needed little persuasion.
Jack Leach’s left-arm spin has looked a different proposition in this Test, with Stokes handing him the 12th over in New Zealand’s first innings, and the new ball in their second.
Jack Leach has been in fine form for England this summer after a tough couple of years
As for the likes of Overton and Matthew Potts, both have flourished the moment they have become Test cricketers — another sign of a healthy dressing-room.
Moments before the players left the field for the second and final time because of rain, Stokes at mid-off, Broad at mid-on and Root at first slip — the three senior members of the side, no less — were waving their arms in a bid to rouse the Western Terrace.
Possibly distracted by the activity in his peripheral vision, Tom Blundell pulled away as Potts ran in, at which point the rain grew heavier.Stokes laughed as the players walked off, and high-fived Leach, who had just dismissed Henry Nicholls and looked wide-eyed with the madness of it all.
The new approach will occasionally come a cropper, and the loss of six wickets in England’s first 12 overs on Friday seemed ominous.But revolutions are rarely easy. And this one looks a lot of fun.