The stats speak for themselves. Since Ben Stokes took the helm as captain back in April, England’s cricketers have lost only one test match in seven and haven’t yet lost a series. Their clean sweep against New Zealand was a very promising start to the summer, and a very welcome turnaround from the team who had undergone a debilitating loss to a superior West Indies team.
Their latest series victory over South Africa is an even greater step forwards, showing their ability to bounce back from 1-0 behind after an innings loss at their symbolic home, Lord’s. Their previous run was a single test win in 17 matches.
The latest series was remarkably unbalanced. In the first test, the Three Lions completely fell apart in the face of a Proteas bowling attack which targeted every weakness, losing by an innings and 12 runs.
But their victory by an even greater margin - an innings and 85 runs - only a few days later was a complete turnaround, followed by a nine wicket win on the 12th after just three days of play, after a washed out first day and a called off second after the passing of the Queen.
The contrast between the first result and the last clearly shows just how the mentality of the dressing room is key to their success. Crawley is beginning to show the promise of his earlier test days, and Ollie Pope is scoring highly regularly at number 3, something many were initially skeptical of. The dressing room may have been left wanting a little more from their batting talisman Joe Root, but after his superb play against New Zealand, there must be few complaints.
So what’s changed? The team, at first glance, isn’t particularly new-look, besides the introduction of bowlers such as Matty Potts and the recalling of Ollie Robinson and Alex Lees. Instead, behind-the-scenes work by the new coach has instilled belief into a group of players who had begun to feel they were in decline.
The style of cricket is more aggressive, less tentative and withheld; instead, it’s forward and offensive, attacking and determined, but also sensible when it needs to be. A weakness of the side before was their tendency to chase certain balls when at the crease, allowing the opposition bowlers to lure them into trapping them lbw or edging the ball to one of the slips. McCulloch is trying to encourage the team to focus on their own individual play, putting the scorecard to one side and instead focusing on any opportunities for wickets or runs.
Mainstay bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad have just been confirmed as members of the Ashes squad in 2023, fitness permitting, having been contraversially dropped for the defeats by the West Indies before McCulloch took over.
Their return has brought greater attacking energy, working well with the younger pace bowlers such as Matty Potts to create breakthrough moments in tight innings. Anderson’s average this summer has been 17.66, with 27 wickets taken to bring his career Test total to a staggering 667.
England have had the home advantage thus far and it will be interesting to see how they respond to fans in Pakistan during their tour from September to December. McCulloch certainly has brought back a style of cricket instilling excitement back in fans, new and old. It’s entertainment at its finest, and that seems to be one of the key parts of the Stokes ad McCulloch ethos and approach.
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