What did Rob Key say when he appointed Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum to revive England’s Test cricket? Strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride?
Well, Rob, we are doing just that. This record-breaking victory over India, following three equally impressive wins over New Zealand, has been fabulous to watch.
It is incredible now to think there were questions about all three of the big appointments made by England earlier this year, when they decided they had to move on from managing director Ashley Giles, Joe Root as captain and Chris Silverwood as coach.
England’s record-breaking win over India followed three impressive wins over New Zealand
When Key was appointed managing director, there were people who said, ‘What does he know about administration? He’s never done it’. Well, Key has done all right with the decisions he has made so far.
There were questions about whether Stokes would succeed as captain and comparisons made with other great all-rounders such as Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff, who perhaps didn’t make the greatest leaders.
Well, he’s not botham or Flintoff, he’s Ben Stokes and he is proving himself to be a brilliant leader of his national team.
Equally, there were those who questioned how Key could appoint a coach in McCullum who had never been in charge of a red-ball side. Well, McCullum played 101 Tests, once made a 13-hour triple century and revolutionized New Zealand’s Test cricket when he was captain.
Clearly, these were very good appointments, but I don’t think any of us could have known quite how good it would be this summer and quite how rapid England’s improvement would be.
Rob Key (left) has got his decisions right so far after appointing Brendon McCullum (right)
Root and Jonny Bairstow epitomise what this transformation of the England side is all about. Their approach is not about being backless. It is not about swinging from the hip. It is a totally positive mindset with enjoyment of the game at the heart of it.
McCullum has ensured England are not fearful about the game. They are not worrying about what’s ahead of them or over-analysing it.
They are just strapping on their pads or getting a ball in their hands and going out and having fun. They have been reminded that playing for England is a wonderful experience, not something that should wear you down.
And Stokes has got his team revved up to play an attacking, exciting brand of cricket.
You can see that so clearly in England’s batting when someone like Alex Lees plays the way he did on day four of this Test. When was the last time an England opener ran down the pitch to his third ball? When he was facing an historic chase of 378 to win, too!
That opening partnership between Lees and Zak Crawley set up this incredible victory because they put the opposition on the back foot. They never let India settle.
Joe Root (pictured) and Jonny Bairstow epitomise what this transformation of England is about
This was Key’s attitude when he worked with us at Sky.
He did not enjoy it when Dom Sibley, Haseeb Hameed and Rory Burns let bowlers bowl at them without trying to force the pace. He knew even if England were 30 without loss, they were going nowhere and the opposition always had the upper hand.
He wanted the batsmen to have that positive intent and we saw that on day four when Lees and Crawley were so positive that the uneven bounce from day three seemed to disappear.
But it is in the field where Stokes’s leadership has been phenomenal. He has been so impressive in the way he has gone about the job and in the fields he has set.
I like his stubbornness, too. England bowled short to India’s tailenders in the first innings here and it backfired, so what did Stokes do second time? Exactly the same and this time India’s last seven wickets fell for 92 and England had a chance to make history.
That opening partnership between Alex Lees and Zak Crawley (pictured) set the victory up
Stokes doesn’t give a damn what anybody else says. He is doing it his way, to the extent of having Stuart Broad padded up as nightwatchman. When did you last see Broad play a defensive shot?
That extends to the way Stokes is batting. At the moment, Ben is trying to set the tone, to send a message to the team, but I do think things will settle down eventually because he is a very smart cricketer, one of England’s best batters with Root and Bairstow.
England and Stokes are giving that message to their players but there is room for self-analysis, too. They want the players to own their careers; like Crawley here, making his own little technical changes and seeing the benefit.
Just as Eoin Morgan’s white-ball side did, this Test team will cross the line occasionally.
They will get it wrong but they will never doubt the road they are doing down and they will keep on doing it in their own way. Long may it continue.