Test cricket at its best


I was an ardent observer of the Test series played in England recently between the host country and the visiting New Zealanders. The visitors were convincingly beaten by a refurbished England team that seemed to have found fresh enthusiasm.

What surprised me in this whitewash of three games to nil in a three-match series is the fact that New Zealand are the world champions of Test cricket, having beaten the might of India in the final played at Southampton, England, in July 2021. After two years of Test cricket played as a league in which teams earn points, India finished on top followed by NZ.

Mindful of the disappointing performances of the England team that had won only one of its previous 15 Test matches under captain Joe Root, it was a shocker for NZ to be so thoroughly beaten. However, England were under a brand new leader, Benjamin Stokes. The left-handed batting all-rounder who bowls right-arm medium-pace is known for his aggressive approach to cricket, consequently, this mindset rolled over into his captaincy.

That remarkable Yorkshireman, Jonny Bairstow, was an epitome of self-confidence, stroking back to back hundreds, showing tremendous form and super-positive stroke play. The bowling of Jack Leach, a slow left-arm orthodox spinner, was good enough to pick up two five-wicket hauls which were well deserved. Of course, there was still the accuracy and lethal deliveries of the 40-year-old Jimmy Anderson partnered by the irrepressible Stuart Broad.

Although they won the first two Tests by five-wicket margins and the third by seven wickets, it never looked that easy until the second innings of the third Test when after a time the partnership between Root (86 not out) and Bairstow (71 not out) closed out the game.

It was Test cricket at its best and most enthralling. The fortunes swayed from one team to the next throughout the three Tests, but in the long run, the captaincy and wilful approach of skipper Stokes held sway. The equally aggressive Bairstow at his side helped make them the better team for the series. I found it thrilling to watch. The end result was always floating in the wind with both teams fighting for dominance; this created regular drama and tension.

The captaincy on both teams was sound and imaginative, again, down to the final day of the third Test when it finally ended in a deserved win for England.

The NZ team though, should feel no remorse as their approach to the matches, plus their individual performances are something to be proud of. They played well and fought down to the wire. Going into the third game two down must have been disheartening, nonetheless, that was shrugged off once the swords were drawn. After which, they played as worthy competitors of the world Test champions that they are.

On the other hand, the England side has everything for which to feel satisfaction and pleasure. Their administration took the bull by the horns and made some crucial changes. The final insult incurred by captain Root, was his crumpling to the West Indies in the Caribbean earlier this year. And this was immediately after that humiliating 4-0 loss away to Australia in the Ashes series. Root resigned the captaincy when he returned home from the Caribbean and the coach Silverwood was released after the Ashes defeat.

This move opened the door for the selection of Stokes as captain and the big surprise, which is unlike the England and Wales Cricket Board, of choosing a foreigner to be the coach. Brendon McCullum of NZ was the man that got the nod to be the new head coach of the England cricket team. What made it even smoother was the similarity in views and personality between the coach and captain. Both men are aggressive by nature, positive in outlook with optimistic personalities. That spirit of competition was present on the field and in the dressing-room which changed the methodology and attitude of the English Test cricketers.

Both men are aware that the team did well against NZ, however, they are practical men that understand a cricket match can be won or lost by players having the wrong disposition. The difference is that they build the mental capacity of the team around winning games and expect all players to come together with the singular purpose of being victorious.

The positive attitude is to win. The idea is not to become bogged down with techniques and orthodoxy, for though that’s vital, it’s useless without the correct mentality.


"Test cricket at its best"

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