On the surface, it’s a familiar story: England relying on Joe Root to haul the Test side towards a result. But yesterday at Lord’s, barely two hours into play on the fourth day, England had achieved what they had managed just once in the previous 17 matches – winning a Test.
The five-wicket victory over New Zealand marked a positive start to the Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum era of English cricket.
The hoodoo is off their backs, and their next target will be to win a series for the first time since they defeated Sri Lanka 2-0 at the beginning of 2021.
The Test felt almost like a two-day sprint by stumps on Thursday, with 17 wickets falling on the opening day in a series of sessions that celebrated some astonishing bowling.
The stalwarts of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, temporarily cast aside for the series loss against the West Indies earlier this year, were back on the Lord’s crease with a vengeance and the former took two early wickets in Tom Latham and Will Young.
It was as if the 39-year-old Anderson had never been away.
But it has long been said that England need a plan of succession for the duo who, while still performing, are unlikely to be around to rescue their side for the next decade.
So, then, for Matthew Potts there’s nothing like an England debut than at the home of cricket.
He took that challenge by the scruff of the neck and shone across the two innings. His first wicket in international Test cricket was that of Kiwi captain Kane Williamson – one of the best batters the game has seen in recent times. Thereon the 23-year-old Durham bowler posted figures of four wickets for 13 runs in his first innings and 3-55 in his second, including Williamson again.
England have often been wondering about what their bowling attack would look like but in Potts – and Jack Leach’s concussion replacement Matt Parkinson, who took a wicket of his own – captain Stokes has diversified his options heading into the second Test at Trent Bridge this week.
Bat away, boys
While there are options in the bowling attack, there remains a reliance on the same faces to perform with the bat.
After a strong showing with the ball in the first New Zealand innings, England collapsed from 92-2 to 100-7 with the bat.
A first-innings 43 from Zak Crawley was the highest England contribution in the opening days and one of only three to reach double figures. The second innings improved with a 54 from Stokes and 115 not out from Root – earning him his first fourth-innings century and his 26th career ton while taking him beyond 10,000 runs.
England’s last four wins have now seen Root achieve a century, his 115 not out yesterday his lowest total of the four.
A mention for Ben Foakes, too, whose 32 not out cemented a partnership with which Root could work from. His display will be of comfort to Stokes, who has seen many lower order batters fall short of their ability prior to his tenure. If similar can be repeated in the near future, England could put an end to their batting tail woes.
England have halted their dire record and will now be looking to build upon that in the remaining two Tests.
They have improved because they have won, but Stokes’s men can’t use this victory to wallpaper over the remaining cracks.