England restore joy to all aspects of Test Cricket
That was the headline introducing today’s BBC report of England’s historic win against Pakistan, in Pakistan, following victory in the Third Cricket Test in Karachi (England winning the first two).
As an England cricket fan, especially in this longer, traditional form of the game (interestingly, England are current world champions in both the T50 and T20 formats of the game – and while these are not unrelated, I will not consider further here), I am delighted, given that less than a year ago England Test cricket was in the doldrums, following a number of ignominious defeats, but there has since been a marked reversal in fortunes and a new attractive brand of cricket.
How England managed to turn it all around in such a short time is an incredible story and an inspirational one, demonstrating it can be done. The first thing to note was following their return from the West Indies tour in March, when they were beaten by a relatively weak West Indies side, there was a big shake up in the management. Rob Keys was appointed Managing Director; Brendon McCullum was appointed coach and Ben Stokes was appointed captain. Most pundits feel all three have done well with their attritional brand of cricket, resulting in winning six of the seven tests played in England, and now this series played in Pakistan. Historically, Pakistan has not been a happy hunting ground, and often there has been a degree of niggle and a sense of hostility, for English cricket, but not this time. The games were played in a good spirit and spectators have been fantastic, as have the Pakistani people who were great hosts.
There was something mind blowing about the way England went about their task where their high scoring rate was unprecedented. While arguably a risky strategy (Pakistan could have won any of the tests) against superior opposition, with the benefit of hindsight it was the right one and certainly entertaining. While credit should be given to Ben Stokes for his inspirational leadership on and off the field, he had good support. Prior to this series, I hadn’t even heard of newbies: Rehan Ahmed, Harry Brook and Ben Duckett, but all performed admirably. Interestingly, Joe Root (captain before Stokes) and Stokes, England’s star batsmen, made relatively modest contributions with the bat by their high standards (but they didn’t need to score heavily as others did so instead). Along with Stokes’ outstanding captaincy, Root made significant contributions as a bowler. It was a superb effort by a well balanced side in terms of youth, experience and skills, for all team members had parts to play, not least the veterans led by 40 year old Jimmy Anderson, ably supported bowling wise by Jack Leach, Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson. As for Stokes’ leadership, it is audacious, combative and imaginative. He leads by example, and brings the best out of those he leads, even if it means he sometimes has to play second fiddle.
All of which bodes well for the future. However, unlike certain Australian and West Indies sides of yesteryear, England have yet to produce what I regard as a great side during my lifetime. Maybe they will this time, building on this recent success, their new found confidence, prodigious new talent and will to win, starting with an Ashes series this coming summer and successful overseas tours, especially in India, these next two winters. I live in hope but, right now, we must congratulate England on their fantastic win.