When Ben Stokes leads his side out against New Zealand at Lord’s on Thursday with head coach Brendon McCullum watching down from the famous pavilion, it will mark a new era in English Test cricket.
I was not surprised to see Stokes appointed captain – there weren’t too many other options around the squad at the time of Joe Root’s resignation – and it’s on the Durham all-rounder to take the reins of a side desperate for a win.
He has taken the weight of England captaincy on shoulders that were already heavy, but I think with the right management from senior players and coaches he can be a force to propel this England upwards from the depths of the World Test Championship table.
Stokes must manage
Stokes thrives under pressure and he often performs when his team needs him most. I just hope that the likes of Root and James Anderson are able to help him manage himself.
One criticism some had of the Root era was that he didn’t back himself enough with the ball, when most onlookers recognised his brilliant bowling.
I hope Stokes doesn’t go the other way and feel the need to overuse himself when England need a breakthrough, because that will be counter-productive and likely cause the 30-year-old injuries.
As for his new head coach, I really like the way the governing body have very deliberately chosen to go so leftfield with the choice of McCullum.
He has had such little experience as a Test coach but was exemplary as New Zealand captain and he should click well with Stokes.
The pair are both known for being aggressive on the field and their tactical choices to go after totals or sprint out of the gate have often been rewarded.
McCullum may be new to Test coaching – and candidates like Justin Langer and Gary Kirsten may have been better initial choices – but he will bring strong man-management skills.
He seems like the kind of coach who will let the players play, focus on tactics, and offer a helping hand or arm to the lads who need protection.
I can see McCullum having the same focus on Test cricket as Trevor Bayliss had on the World Cup-winning one-day side – and it will hopefully reap similar rewards.
It’s not going to be an easy start for the pair – cricketing dynasties aren’t built in one series and miracles don’t happen often – though Stokes has been involved in a few of those.
New Zealand are a tough outfit, and England have seemingly underestimated them in the past. They bring a lot of players who fly under the radar – such as Devon Conway and Tom Latham – but they have a very strong all-around game.
For England, there’s a sense of familiarity about the squad, and that’s not the worst thing.
Zak Crawley needs runs, and he needs them soon. His run of scores isn’t quite up to par yet. But despite his superb form in the Indian Premier League, I wouldn’t recall Jos Buttler to the Test side. I’ve often thought he hasn’t looked comfortable with the red ball.
On the flip side, Liam Livingstone would be someone I would be looking at closely, alongside 28-year-old Kent left-hander Ben Compton. Both are exciting and would add something to the team.
It’s a new era in English cricket, and although I am not expecting too much too soon, the future could look bright for an attacking, aggressive Test side under Stokes and McCullum.