There is an alternative reality that sees Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad being picked for England’s tour of the Caribbean last year, struggling on flat pitches and never playing again.
Certainly, Broad believes Andrew Strauss’s controversial decision to leave out Test cricket’s most prolific partnership for what was then described as a ‘red-ball re-set’ under Joe Root and Chris Silverwood may have inadvertently saved his career.
What is not in dispute is that Ben Stokes told Rob Key he wanted both of England’s champion bowlers back when he took over as Test captain last summer and was pleasantly surprised when the new managing director agreed with him.
How Stokes faith has been repaid and how foolish Strauss’s call looks now after the pair overtook Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne with four wickets each as New Zealand were bundled out for 126 on the fourth day to lose the first day-night Test by 267-runs.
Their tally now stands at an astonishing 1,009 in Tests since they were first thrown together 15 years ago and helped England emerge victorious, in Wellington and Napier, in the last two Tests they had won in New Zealand before this latest ‘Bazball’ triumph.
James Anderson helped England to victory in Mount Maunganui with four wickets on the final day
Anderson and Stuart Broad have now taken a world-record 1,009 wickets in Tests played together
The 40-year-old seamer finished the second innings with impressive figures of four for 18
This was another intoxicating victory for one of the most remarkable transformations in English cricket history and at the centre of it with the ball were two old campaigners who have, at 40 and 36, brought as much energy and enthusiasm to the new regime as anyone.
It was one of Broad’s great spells, clean bowling all four of his third night victims, who set up this comprehensive win and then Anderson who finished it off to take four of the last five to fall today and finish with remarkable second innings figures of four for 18.
‘I think having James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the side – Ollie Robinson as well – makes captaincy a lot easier,’ said Ben Stokes after recording his 10th win in 11 matches since taking over from Root at the start of last summer.
‘Not only did they do brilliantly in this game with the ball but last night I said in the dressing room we’ve got a 40-year-old and a 36-year-old setting the standards of what we’re about in the field too. Those boys will bowl all day for you but look at the way you see them running around in the field.
‘I don’t really want to look too far ahead to when they might call time on their careers. You don’t want to think about that, you just want to keep thinking about them taking wickets and seeing Stuart Broad bowl spells like he did last night.’
This was some win by England to follow their historic 3-0 victory in Pakistan to now prove their high-octane perhaps high-risk style of play can work in day-night cricket in New Zealand as well as in all the other conditions and opposition they have encountered so far.
It came after Stuart Broad set up the victory by taking four wickets, all of them bowled, on day three as New Zealand were reduced to 63 for five overnight
Harry Brook was named man of the match after scoring pacey fifties in each innings
Yes, the Black Caps lost two of their best bowlers in Matt Henry and Kyle Jamieson before the game and were further weakened by their self-defeating decision not to call for local boy Trent Boult but England again dominated after losing the toss.
Stokes admitted afterwards he too would have bowled first on what was then a soft Bay Oval pitch after Cyclone Gabrielle had stormed into town but his tactics afterwards were again masterful, ensuring New Zealand would twice have to bat under lights.
While Broad, Anderson and Robinson took the bowling plaudits there were thrilling batting contributions from Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, Joe Root and the young genius Harry Brook while Ben Foakes played his part with a more measured half century.
It led to Broad to suggest this is now the strongest England side since the days Strauss took them to Ashes success in Australia and the No1 ranking in the world, with Stokes admitting he has got almost an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.
All after English Test cricket was plunged to another bout of introspection and another review into the future of the game after that dismal 1-0 defeat by West Indies less than a year ago. And with pretty much the same personnel, other than the emergence of Brook.
‘It’s great to have so many world-class players to choose from,’ said Stokes. It’s probably going to end up in a selection nightmare at some point but I’d rather have that for myself as captain and Baz as coach. I don’t like to look too far ahead but I think we’ll have a good crop of players to choose from in the Ashes.’
Ben Stokes has now won 10 of his 11 games as permanent England Test captain, including four from four away from home
What an enticing prospect this summer’s clash against the old enemy is already looking, with Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Jofra Archer among those England hope will be fully fit and firing to join the squad already here in time for Test cricket’s biggest series.
Stokes only issue today was the continued use by the media at least of that term ‘Bazball’ on McCullum’s return to his native New Zealand.
‘It’s English Test cricket, not Bazball,’ said Stokes. ‘I thought we had said we don’t like it enough for it to die off by now but it keeps popping back up. Mind you, Rooty has stuck a badge on Baz’s bag saying ‘Bazball.’ He’ll hate that. Baz just loves everyone else taking the plaudits rather than him. He was like that as a player and a captain too.’
That may be true but so exciting, so pioneering and so entertaining is this form of cricket it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. So long live ‘Bazball’ – it really is like nothing this reporter for one has seen before.
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