And just like that all is well in English Test cricket again, right? In yesterday’s seven-wicket demolition of New Zealand at Headingley, England completed a 3-0 whitewash over the Black Caps to win their first Test series since the beginning of last year.
If after England’s humiliating Test series defeat against the West Indies earlier this year you’d have said a Stokes-led five-day side would completely dominate a series, many would have laughed. But that’s exactly what transpired yesterday.
From Jonny Bairstow’s rapid half century – the fastest ever Test 50 scored in England – to Jack Leach’s 10-wicket haul, it all seemed to click for Brendon McCullum’s side.
Their opponents in the Black Caps are the reigning World Test Championship winners and England’s three impressive chases – 277 at Lord’s, 299 at Trent Bridge and 296 at Headingley – will banish last year’s friendly at the home of cricket where, with nothing to lose, England sat in and defended for a draw.
Under a powerhouse coach like McCullum, the push towards positive, aggressive cricket is easy to see – the likes of Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes, Jamie Overton Stokes and Joe Root all having their moments in this series.
But again at Headingley it was Bairstow who sent the Western Terrace into delirium and confounded New Zealand’s loss.
His 71 not out in the second innings to back up his 162 in the first provided the largest cog in England’s batting machine.
He totalled 394 runs in just 328 balls this series with a strike rate – of players who have faced at least 200 balls – only bettered by Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi.
But England’s side remains largely unchanged since the Ashes and the West India series’ but the mentality looks to have improved.
It’s positive, aggressive and awe-inspiring – the kind of cricket that makes Test cricket attractive.
The Stokes-McCullum era has started with a bang, an incredible explosion of alacrity, and if this is the summit of the highest peak then even the troughs will be bearable.
“When I took on this job it was more than about results for me,” captain Stokes said after the win. “It was about a change of mindset for me – we want people to be feeling the love for Test cricket.
“I said I wanted us to be entertainers coming into the series and we’ve certainly done that.”
England’s schedule doesn’t relent and they’ll next play a Test on Friday against India.
A hangover from last year’s series – poised at 2-1 to the visitors after the final Test was rearranged due to Covid-19 concerns – McCullum and Stokes are faced with A new challenge.
They’re behind in a series with a singular match in which to draw level – it’s a different type of pressure.
How they cope with that change in mentality alone will make the Test worth watching, but throw in the Edgbaston crowd and heightened expectation of exciting cricket – the conclusion to the series is palpable.
We are officially in a new era of Test cricket in England – a winning one – and after the recent few years of despair, doesn’t coming out on top again feel so good?