NASSER HUSSAIN: You can’t applaud Ben Stokes’ boldness then complain when England lose by a whisker… 10 Test wins out of 12 tells you it is working
Not so long ago, people waking up in the UK to find England had lost a Test by one run would have been looking for a scapegoat.
But the overwhelming feeling the morning after the thriller in Wellington was that we had all witnessed something special.
Yes, results are important. Ultimately, it is what a team and a captain are judged on. I was a win-at-all-costs kind of captain, and I still feel the hurt of one or two matches that got away from us during my time in charge.
But the thing about this England side is that they have been getting the results. Only a superb rearguard from New Zealand in their second innings at the Basin Reserve prevented a clean sweep of all five winter Tests.
Occasionally, of course, the way England play under Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes will leave the door open for the opposition — whether it is declaring eight down in the first innings, or enforcing the follow-on with plenty of time left in the game.
Ben Stokes was a whisker away from leading England to a famous test win over New Zealand
The New Zealand players celebrate their victory over England in the fifth test in Wellington
But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t applaud Stokes’s boldness on the one hand — as many were after he called his team in at 435 for eight on the second morning — then complain after they have lost by a whisker. If England score two more runs, Stokes is a genius. This is just the way it is now, and 10 wins out of 12 tells you it is working.
In fact, without the mindset that allowed Stokes to declare early, or to put New Zealand in again, we would not have seen this fantastic turnaround. There is a bigger picture here, and fair play to McCullum and Stokes for seeing it. When they took over as coach and captain, they laid down their marker early.
They could easily have wavered or gone defensive. But they never have. Even after losing to South Africa at Lord’s, McCullum’s main takeaway was that England should have gone harder.
Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes approach against New Zealand nearly paid off with a win
It reminds me of Eoin Morgan’s approach in the early days of his white-ball revolution in 2015. Occasionally, England would get it wrong, and the critics would tell them to rein it in a bit. But Morgan shut out the noise, and told his team to crack on. The only area of concern I have is the skipper’s knee.
In truth, I have been worried about it for some time, and this winter Stokes has had to be clever about looking after it. Eventually, he will just be a batter/captain, which is fine: he would still walk into any team.
But it does upset the balance of the side, and with the Ashes coming up he needs to be in constant communication with the ECB medical staff while he is at the IPL. England need Stokes as their all-round option this summer, and if that means playing for Chennai Super Kings as a specialist batter, so be it.
He has seen the bigger picture when it comes to making Test cricket exciting. I just hope he nurses that knee in India in the coming weeks — because England’s Ashes hopes could depend on it.