The curtain has risen on Brendon McCullum’s excellent first summer in charge of the England team.
And the future looks bright after a remarkable season which saw new captain Ben Stokes lead his side to six wins from seven matches in a single summer, for the first time since 2004.
No one could have imagined that England would enjoy their most successful summer at home for 18 years, when their red ball cricket was in the doldrums just a few months ago.
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Chris Silverwood was fired after the Ashes’ 4-0 humiliation last winter and captain Joe Root quit after the humiliating defeat in the West Indies. The summer promised to be gloomy for an England fan.
The writing was on the wall for Root, whose side enjoyed just one win in 17 Tests, as he handed over the reins after six years in the role. But the turnaround has been remarkable since McCullum was introduced to Lord’s at the end of May. We had no idea that the nonchalant way in which the former New Zealand captain strolled around the “house of cricket” was a sign of the cavalier approach he was about to implement.
In those moments, “BazBall” was born. Stokes’ side shut out world Test champions New Zealand 3-0, won the single Test against India to level last year’s series 2-2 and came back from a defeat embarrassing in the first test against South Africa to beat the Proteas 2-1.
Reflecting on her summer successes, McCullum said, “It was something very special that I was a part of. There are still big challenges ahead in the next couple of years, but so far it’s been a pretty successful summer.
“I thought English cricket had a lot of talent, but it has a lot more than I thought. I knew those guys were good, but they’re way better than I thought. It’s a very privileged position to go and help these guys perform. It was an absolute pleasure.”
The appetite for Test cricket in this country has never been stronger since the infamous 2005 Ashes series, which thrilled the nation. And the thrilling chases on day five will long be remembered by anyone lucky enough to have a free ticket to attend this year.
Jonny Bairstow, who missed the final test of the summer after injuring his leg on the golf course, was rightly named player of the summer after achieving four centuries.
But it was the pitchers who stole the show from South Africa, in a rare series where neither team topped 200 runs.
The indestructible Stuart Broad (29), who passed Glenn McGrath’s total of 563 scalps in the last test, and Jimmy Anderson (27) were the best takers of the summer.
After watching them torment visiting batsmen for years on these shores, one might get a sense of “déjà vu”, but in March both players were dropped from the series in the West Indies. Thankfully, the first big decision the McCullum-Stokes coach-captain combination made was to reinstate their invaluable veterans.
Anderson, who turned 40 this summer, said: “Brendon has arrived and it’s been very positive. There is a positive atmosphere in this locker room.
“The messages he sends to go out there and entertain, play a certain type of cricket, everyone bought into it.
“Some days it didn’t work, some days it did, but the days it worked were spectacular. It has changed the way many players think of Test cricket and I think it will change the way much of the world will think of Test cricket.”
All eyes quickly turned to next year’s Ashes series, with England looking for revenge after their 4-0 defeat at the Down Under. But Stokes was quick to stress the importance of upcoming tours of Pakistan in December and New Zealand in February ahead of next summer’s much-anticipated showdown.
“You add Jofra [Archer] and woody [Mark Wood] who are in great shape, it’s scary to think what could happen, especially with the ball,” admits Stokes. « The drummers that we have and that kind of stuff, it’s a really high ceiling. »
Stokes’ mantra is to entertain the paying public, and they were entertained! More of the same please, friends.
*18+ BeGambleAware odds subject to change