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England’s new era under Stokes and McCullum off to a strong start despite batting slumps

It wasn’t a perfect performance – far from it – but England were well past that question.

They just needed a win, and they got it. The run of nine Tests without a win and the record one win in 17 are over, and England are bottom of the World Test Championship table. The Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes era is on the rise.

Yet can we have learned much from a game in which James Anderson and Stuart Broad took half the wickets and Joe Root and Stokes were the only men to lift their bats? Stokes certainly thought so. Clearly, a stellar start for Matt Potts gives England another bowling option, and Ben Foakes’ composure with a bat and gloves was welcome.

From a winning perspective, Stokes was even able to embellish some concerns. England had two more collapses, one of the higher order, the other of the whole order. But Alex Lees, his last six innings all between 20 and 31, was “the best he’s looked in an England shirt”. Zak Crawley “got us off an absolute flier” with his “positive intention” in the early innings, before frustratingly crashing. Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow failed to reach 20 with the bat, but provided inspirational moments on the field.

It’s too early to tell whether England’s near-perfect fielding simply had a good week or is part of a wider uptick under McCullum, who places so much emphasis on the attitude on the field. Certainly the tone was set by Bairstow’s early catches and Jack Leach’s chase for the ball – McCullum could be seen looking over the balcony, delighted with the effort, if not the result – and England threw stumps more often than in any other game. Trial in recent memory, with Pope’s direct hit as a reward.

England v New Zealand

By the numbers

9 – years and 171 days in which Root hit 10,000 Tests, becoming the first drummer to do so in less than a decade

9 – centuries since the start of 2021 for Root

7 – years since England last won a Test against New Zealand

Stokes’ leadership was also impressive. We knew he could do “follow me”, but he spoke impressively and handled his two starters with care. Potts was not left to simmer; Stokes brought it on for the 10th over of the match, replacing Broad immediately after taking a wicket.

He picked up Kane Williamson’s wicket and never looked back. On the third night, Stokes invited Potts, another Durham player, to dinner with his family to celebrate his birthday, to ease nerves over yesterday’s stick. Root and Foakes ensured that Potts was not needed; he could have joined Stokes for the “few beers” that helped him sleep.

Matt Parkinson was a more unusual start, but it was wise of Stokes to throw him into the attack as New Zealand crumbled on day three. He quickly snagged the wicket of Tim Southee in what was overall a neat performance. It’s a terrible chance for Leach, a terribly unlucky cricketer, but England could think about time that Parkinson play early this summer is a positive.

Joe Root guided England to victory against New Zealand in their first game since stepping down as captain

/ PA

Through the ups and downs of a wild test, McCullum, eyes often hidden by sunglasses, cut an impenetrable figure on the house balcony. His players looked desperate to sit next to him. Unlike his predecessors Chris Silverwood and Trevor Bayliss, he then chose not to speak to the media at the end, allowing Stokes and Root to relish the moment. Formal post-match debriefs were short, with families soon meeting in the locker room to mingle.

The meaning is that McCullum is using this series, which continues in Nottingham on Friday, to weigh his options before making any changes – and that includes personnel. Of the coaches, only spin specialist Jeetan Patel, a former New Zealand teammate, and James Foster of the Kolkata Knight Riders have ever worked with McCullum.

England just needed a win, and they got it

McCullum wants to simplify the locker room environment. England have a large backroom staff, all with important roles to play in the week of a Test match. Covid-19 and bubble life is one of the reasons why for the past few years (and possibly longer) many of them have been in the locker room during game hours. this is changing and maybe the staff is reduced. It has not gone unnoticed that New Zealand has 11 staff on tour, half a dozen less than England at Lord’s.

The methods of the new leaders are clear. Publicly, Stokes will support his players all the way, while McCullum will pump their tires and do whatever he can to make them feel comfortable. They have a lot to do, but victory gives everyone a little more time.

standard Sport

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