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The secrets of England’s new ‘Baz and Ben ball’ era of cricket




It was symbolic and fitting that England’s incredible chase down Trent Bridge was completed as they hit their record target of 299 in exactly 50 overs.

For there are echoes of the dramatic transformation in England’s one-day cricket after the desperate low of the 2015 World Cup in the way that Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum (or Baz as he is called) have revived their test game in just over two weeks.

Just as Baz-ball, as McCullum’s ultra-positive and fun-based style has been labeled, was instrumental in his great friend Eoin Morgan dragging England’s white-ball cricket from the bottom to the 50-over world champion, the New Zealander now has a more direct influence on the great old Test format as England coach.

Captain Ben Stokes hit the winning points this week in England’s poignant win over New Zealand

Jonny Bairstow propelled England to victory with an age-old test century

Jonny Bairstow propelled England to victory with an age-old test century

Stokes and new coach Brendon McCullum deserve credit for the culture they cultivate

Stokes and new coach Brendon McCullum deserve credit for the culture they cultivate

It should really be called Baz and Ben-bal, as the new captain Stokes plays an equal part in what was a rapid turnaround from the same desperate low of defeat to Australia and the West Indies last winter to a series win over the world champions.

It was put to Stokes for the epic second test that he was in a similar position to Nasser Hussain, who in 1999 took over a team from England that was bottom of the world rankings and made them competitive and hard to beat before Michael Vaughan completed the match. job and turned them into Ashes winners.

While he didn’t underestimate Hussains’ pivotal role in the transformation of that England team, Stokes made it clear he wasn’t interested in the hard-to-beat part. He wanted to go straight to the winners’ housing and to hell playing for draws along the way.

That has been the mantra for essentially the same group of players who have gone through a miserable period for the past 18 months, culminating in the resignation of coach Chris Silverwood and then the resignation of captain Joe Root, but suddenly playing with complete freedom.

McCullum and Stokes told them: Go back to what it was like when you were a kid who played for fun. Just enjoy yourself. The coach and captain support them to play naturally and extensively and forget the consequences of defeat. There is no fear of failure.

Coach McCullum has helped England shake off fear of failure when playing test cricket

Coach McCullum has helped England shake off fear of failure when playing test cricket

The players have been told not to worry about outside noises and what the media is saying. Stokes even mentioned the Daily Mail both in the dressing room and at the toss for the first Test at Lords.

Don’t be offended, Ben. We get the point.

Stuart Broad provided insight into that dressing room as the last day of Tuesday in Nottingham was so delicately poised for tea with England at 139 for four who still needed 160 in 38 overs to beat New Zealand at the end of five exciting days.

Then McCullum asked his team, who are always encouraged to have their own input, to gather. It was only two or three minutes before the bell, Broad said. Baz’s team talk was a lot, let’s attack the danger. Let’s run there. He told us that every part of our mind should be focused on going for victory.

He didn’t say he would rather lose than draw, but it was that mentality. He said we had to find a way to win and we had his and Ben’s full support if things went wrong.

The rest, as they say, was history of Jonny Bairstow and Stokes themselves. I don’t think Baz has spoken particularly deeply, continued Broad, who has put any thought of retirement on the back burner to play his part in the revolution.

The energy is just: How good is Test cricket? How good is this soil? He doesn’t look too far ahead. His philosophy is: what can we achieve today? and it buzzed after we made over 380 runs on the third day. He didn’t care how many wickets we lost. It was the run rate he loved.

Stuart Broad (center) spoke eloquently about McCullum's day five team meeting with New Zealand

Stuart Broad (center) spoke eloquently about McCullum’s day five team meeting with New Zealand

No player has embodied change in England more than Alex Lees. The Durham opener seemed scared to make a shot in his first three Tests in the Caribbean, but has now thrown off handcuffs and has returned to the attack, attack, attack style that earned him the nickname Haydos, after his hero Matthew Hayden. It was Lees who set the run-chase tone on Tuesday by crushing Tim Southees for four in the first two balls of the innings.

Likewise, before the series, Ollie Pope was backed by Stokes when he said he not only insisted on having him by his side, but wanted him to hit on three. The captain was awarded a century at Nottingham, with Pope saying: I have never played with a group of players who wanted me to be as successful as this England team.

There were many who questioned Bairstows’ place for the prolific Harry Brook, especially when he returned from the IPL to come out twice with attacking but loose shots at Lords. Not Stokes. He supported Bairstow to keep playing his way and the result at Trent Bridge was one of the best Test centuries of all time.

England are now talking about empowerment of the players. McCullum and Stokes encourage the less experienced to voice their opinion in the pre-session meetings and even nominate a player to play a joke, as Matthew Potts did for tea on the second day, even though England suffered on the field and Lees did before New Zealand’s second innings.

Pott’s prop was well on his way to a mammoth 553 with New Zealand after being put in the bat and at a time when the bowler was wicketless and had dropped Daryl Mitchell in the deep end. But he put a smile on all the faces of the English players and even delayed the evening session by two minutes, much to the chagrin of umpire Paul Reiffel.

Alex Lees' improvement also well reflects the work of the new England lineup

Alex Lees’ improvement also well reflects the work of the new England lineup

It was as Mitchell and Tom Blundell piled up the runs on day two that we saw a fascinating and insightful cameo in the field. Most captains would have been introspective, thinking What have I done? at that stage. Not Stokes. He was seen, seemingly carefree in the world, on the border, signing autographs for young spectators.

That desire to promote the game and engage with supporters was once again demonstrated by Joe Root, who plunged into the new dynamic and did everything he could to help his successor as captain, when he stopped to support a young spectator. on his way to the locker room at tea on Sunday as he made the fastest hundred of his testing career.

Root had no idea that TV cameras were on him as he drew a bat in front of the pavilion and spoke to the young lad who loved meeting his hero. I just remember what it was like when I was a 10-year-old, Root said.

Perhaps most important in this hugely promising process is the way Broad and Jimmy Anderson have returned from their controversial exclusion in the Caribbean, but have clearly embraced the whole project.

It was revealing to see them both bowling to such attacking grounds, said a veteran former England player of Trent Bridge sports post† They never would have done that not so long ago.

Ollie Pope's century in Nottingham helped repay confidence in him to hit number 3

Ollie Pope’s century in Nottingham helped repay confidence in him to hit number 3

I just feel like they’ve been screaming for leadership for the past few years. You get the impression, now that they have that, they would do anything for this team. They’d probably be on their heads in the field for three days if Brendon or Ben asked them to.

England’s coaches, who are actually on trial as McCullum tries to find the diamonds he wants to mold for his staff, join in the fun.

Two days before the second Test came the bizarre sight of them all putting on helmets in practice and jumping tennis balls in the air at players. It may have been a nod to improving reflexes, but it was actually an attempt to relax the players and make them laugh.

Then, on the eve of the game, England held a football penalty shootout with McCullum himself and coach James Foster withdrew their places in goal.

The players clearly loved it, with Stokes complaining that his team was saddled with the worst goalkeeper in McCullum and teasing him, no wonder you gave up wicketkeeping when you played.

Newcomers like Matthew Potts get the chance to speak their mind

Newcomers like Matthew Potts get the chance to speak their mind

The only person who hasn’t opened up about these tense times for English test cricket, at least not since the start of the series, is McCullum himself. He has not yet fulfilled England’s traditional coach role of speaking to the media after a Test but his reasoning is embedded in his policy making.

McCullum doesn’t want to take praise or attention from the players and says he will only speak if the team loses.

Then we can only hope we don’t see him for a while. Obviously there will be bumps in the road and perhaps a test of this total support from the players will come when McCullum and Stokes have to drop one of them.

But for now, their breathtaking start and McCullum’s almost evangelical zeal to protect and protect the future of Test cricket by building a positive, attractive and winning team in England, which is why he took the job instead of the white ball role primarily making waves throughout the cricket world.

It’s going to be a ride.




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