Will The Bredon Mccullum And Ben Stokes Partnership Revive English Test Cricket
Heads have started to roll in the aftermath of England's Ashes humiliation down under. Ashley Giles was sacked as Director of Cricket and was replaced by commentator Rob Key. Chris Silverwood was relieved of his duties as head coach with New Zealand great Brendon McCullum taking over in the longest format of the game. Importantly, Joe Root stepped down as captain of the Test team after the West Indies tour and Ben Stokes was named as the successor.
Speaking to the media on the eve of their appointments, new test captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum said something similar when asked about their approach to the game. Both opined that there should and will be a change of mindset towards test cricket in the country.
One of Root's main criticisms during his time as skipper was his timid approach of failing to motivate his players during tough phases in the game. They looked flat and lacked energy on the field and when the going got tough, England crumbled. Batsmen were given specific roles to play, which somewhat stifled their freedom to play their own game.
With McCullum and Stokes at the helm, England has appointed two men who will want the team to be more proactive and aggressive on the pitch. This approach garnered good results for McCullum while leading the Black Caps during the 2015 World Cup and also as the head coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, while Stokes has already mentioned that a change in mindset in test cricket is imminent.
“There's a lot that needs to change, not just on the field, and those discussions will be had. I want to have selfless cricketers who make decisions based on what they can do to win a game in that given time. I want to have 10 other guys with me who are in that same mindset”, Stokes told Sky Sports.
But will a simple change in the mindset of the players revive England's faltering test team? The real question is, does England have enough talented personnel in the county system that can support Stokes and challenge the best teams in the world? Because the captain is as good as his team and going by the recent Ashes series down under, there is a real lack of quality in the test team, particularly in the batting department.
Does England have an answer to their opening woes? If Root comes in at No. 4, then does England have a solid No. 3 apart from Dawid Malan? Will Bairstow get the gloves or is he on the side as a specialist batter? Is Jack Leach the best spinner in the country? Then there's the perennial question of when to move on from Anderson and Broad.
Here, we take a look at some of the biggest challenges that Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum will face this summer.
Ever since Alaister Cook retired from the test team in 2018, England has failed to find his successor. A host of players, including Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, and of late, Alex Lees. Out of them all, only Rory Burns found some success, averaging 30.32 in 32 tests. But after a horrendous Ashes series in Australia, he was dropped from the test side.
Crawley hasn't lived up to the hype as the next big thing in English cricket, averaging 28 in 21 games. Sibley and Hameed haven't done well either, while Lees didn't even make a half-century in his 3 tests. If England is to get back to the top, they have to look beyond these players.
With Root batting at No.4, England has to find a No.3 as well. Dan Lawrence batted three in two tests but averages 13 in that position. Dawid Malan could be an option as he batted there in the Ashes and did a decent job. Jonny Bairstow has also batted at three in the past and made a brilliant century against Sri Lanka in 2018. In the County system, Josh Bohannon and James Bracey are having good campaigns and could be given a chance.
Stokes has confirmed that he will bat at No.6 and Root will bat at four in the batting line-up. Although Root did score two hundred at three in the Caribbean, Stokes believes the Yorkshireman is best suited at four. Root has scored 14 of his 25 Test hundreds at four and averages over 50, whereas he averages below 40 at three.
It will be interesting to see if Ben Foakes gets another chance after a disastrous tour against the West Indies or will Jonny Bairstow get the gloves.
Stokes has also said he does not expect the captaincy to affect his form as it affected Botham but not Flintoff. Both were instinctive cricketers not particularly well served by the demands of the captaincy. England cricket fans will no doubt hope that Stokes will fare better as a leader, even while there appears to be little danger of his performances with bat and ball being affected.
With just over 5000 runs at an average of almost 36 allied to a tally of 174 wickets at 32 apiece from 79 Tests Stokes certainly has the record to match his two illustrious predecessors.
What about the two veterans, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who have been an integral part of the little success that England enjoyed under Root? England's new Managing Director, Rob Key has said England’s two all-time leading wicket-takers deserve a “send-off” this summer but has backed the call to move on after they were dropped for the recent tour of the Caribbean.
Anderson and Broad can still run through opposition batting line-ups under favorable conditions, but can they lead England into a new era under Stokes and make England the best team in the world? Reverting back to a 39 and 35-year-old, no matter how good they are, suggests that the cupboard is bare.
There isn't a quick fix for this England team and as Brendon McCullum put it, it's time for the English fans to 'buckle up'.
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