Ben Stokes has walked the talk in his very first series as Test captain by winning both the Tests, and along with it the series, against New Zealand.
What was good to see was the positive approach shown by the new skipper at Lord’s and Trent Bridge. In the first Test, chasing a tricky target of 279 on a pitch which was offering a lot of help to the seam and swing bowlers, he went on the attack and negating the swing by stepping out to play. Even fortune favoured him.
The left-hander was bowled by Colin de Grandhomme, but the New Zealand pacer had overstepped and Stokes capitalised on that luck to hit 54 quick runs. Joe Root scored a hundred, but Stokes’ innings had a big impact on the chase as the hosts could reach the target before the second new ball was due for the Kiwi bowlers, which could have tilted the balance of the game.
In the second Test, New Zealand, batting first, scored 553 runs at Trent Bridge and any score of above 500 is a match-winning score but England, in reply, did not buckle under pressure and almost matched New Zealand’s score to hit 539 in 128 overs at a rate of 4.20 per over with hundreds from Ollie Pope and Root. Stokes scored 46 off just 33 balls to ensure the momentum never dropped.
And on the last day England, who were chasing 299 in 72 overs on fifth-day pitch, won in 50 overs, playing a game akin to a One Day International. Yes, New Zealand were a bowler short with Kyle Jamieson injured, but despite being three down for just 56 with their main batter Root back in the hut, England still went for the chase.
It was Jonny Bairstow’s whirlwind 136, which set the platform but captain Stokes was there to finish the game with an attacking 75 off 70 balls to seal the series. Most teams would have dropped the chase after being three down, but Stokes did not. He brought back the fearless cricket in Tests, which England played under Eoin Morgan.
From a team which had just one Test win in the last one year and being at the bottom of the World Test Championship points table, England are up and running, may be a touch too late, but beware team India, who will be playing the last Test early next month. This is a different England team to the one they played last year, fearlessly led from the front by champion skipper Ben Stokes.