England is Winning by Playing Positive, Attractive Cricket
Sometimes a change at the top is the key for the fortunes of a team to change
The changes at the top seem to be working wonders for England. Starting the home season with a new director (cricket operations) in Rob Key, a new coach in Brendon McCullum and a new captain in Ben Stokes appears to have galvanised England into winning matches by playing positive, attractive cricket.
Indeed there were touches of white ball cricket during their chase on Tuesday when they knocked off the requisite 299, always a formidable target in the fourth innings, in just 50 overs.
This is a new England very different from the team that won only one of the last 17 Tests before the first game against New Zealand at Lord's earlier this month. A second successive run chase against a team that won the inaugural World Test Championship a year ago underlines a clear upsurge in England's fortunes and the manner in which things are shaping we could see much more memorable cricket from Stokes and his men during the summer, and beyond.
Yes, sometimes a change at the top is required for the fortunes of a team to change. We had a prime example in India when in 1971 Ajit Wadekar was appointed captain replacing the long-time incumbent MAK Pataudi.
There was no questioning Pataudi's leadership qualities but where were the results everyone asked as India went from one defeat to another. Pataudi who led a team in which the new ball attack was a farce, the batting brittle and fielding sub-standard was often luckless too.
Chairman of the selection committee Vijay Merchant when queried about why he preferred Wadekar replied that he had approached the question of the captaincy as a director of a company would, who when faced with the problem of a decline in production might ponder the advisability of replacing the production manager.
One could not be sure the new man would succeed, he added but some change seemed desirable. And as the whole cricketing world knows India went on to create history by winning the Test series in the West Indies and then another in England the same year.
It might be too early to speak of such historic exploits for this England side but the portents are encouraging. The one serious weakness, the top order batting, seems to be getting better if the performances of Alex Lees and Ollie Pope are an indication.
There has been nothing really of concern about the middle order batting manned by Joe Root, Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes. The bowling without James Anderson and Stuart Broad was posing problems but now that the vastly experienced duo is back and still good enough to bowl out New Zealand twice in two Tests that gap appears to have been covered.
What is particularly significant is the manner in which England have achieved these two victories. Traditionally England players have been known for their cool professionalism, ruthless efficiency and textbook methods. Yes, now and then they produce an ebullient cricketer like Ian Botham or Freddie Flintoff, Kevin Petersen or Ben Stokes.
The cricket they produced at Lord's and Trent Bridge has been full of high spirits and very entertaining, the kind which brings in the crowds. Root whose batting is generally composed of classical strokes has been that much more adventurous while Bairstow's bit hitting on Tuesday was simply breathtaking. And the victory achieved in the face of a New Zealand first innings total of 553 must rank amongst England's finest.
Indeed there has been much to applaud in the two Tests and New Zealand can take their share for providing the highly enterprising cricket. Coming into the series as the higher ranked team the visitors have lived up to their reputation as one of the more attractive squads in international cricket. It is just that England have been able to raise their game several notches.
Also New Zealand have been hit by the injury to Colin De Grandhomme in the first Test. He has been ruled out of the series while Kyle Jamieson was also injured at a vital stage of the second Test. They were also without Kane Williamson who tested positive for Covid and had to miss the second Test. His contribution both as batsman and captain can never be overemphasised.
New Zealand have soldiered on gallantly playing much good cricket thanks mainly to Daryl Mitchell who has hit centuries in both Tests and Trent Boult who has been outstanding with the ball.
They might have lost both the Tests by five wickets but with Williamson back they could be a force to reckon with in the final Test commencing on June 23 even against this England team who at the moment can do no wrong.
Another reason why this has been a fascinating contest is the quality of the pitches. The more ignorant cricket fans needlessly lambasted the surface at Lord's when 17 wickets fell on the first day. This was not because of the pitch at all and was the result of a mix of bad batting, good bowling and excellent catching. As subsequent events showed the pitch remained true with the batsmen coming into their own.
The surface at Trent Bridge was more in favour of the batsmen but did have something in it for the bowler too emphasised by Boult's five-wicket haul and the success of Anderson and Broad. As many as 1675 runs were scored but 35 wickets fell too.
Suddenly then the series has attracted a lot of attention and why not? And if the Leeds Test could be anything like what we have had at Lord's and Trent Bridge the genuine cricket fan could not ask for more.