Satisfying summer for aggressive, attacking England cricketers

Satisfying summer for aggressive, attacking England cricketers

England captain Ben Stokes, left, and coach Brendon McCullum. (Photo: Reuters)
England captain Ben Stokes, left, and coach Brendon McCullum. (Photo: Reuters)

Three months ago England's cricketers were down in the dumps.

After winning only one of their previous 17 Tests, they went into this summer's fixtures against New Zealand, India and South Africa with a sense of trepidation.

The fact they emerged this week having won six of the seven Tests played is little short of remarkable.

More importantly, they achieved this playing positive, entertaining cricket which England fans had rarely witnessed in recent years.

Clinching the series against South Africa after little more than two days' play was the icing on the cake.

New captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum deserve all the plaudits for instilling a new-found confidence amongst the players, despite McCullum saying: "I didn't do a lot."

No matter how unpromising the situation was, they held the belief that victory was possible. And with the exception of one loss against South Africa, it worked a treat.

Unfortunately, the last Test against South Africa took place in a rather subdued atmosphere at the Oval against the backdrop of Queen Elizabeth II's death.

Stokes said the England team "took a huge amount of inspiration" from the Queen.

While the summer's results were encouraging, it's not a time to go overboard.

New Zealand were disappointing and South Africa's batting unexpectedly brittle and England made the most of it.

Probably the best example of the refreshing new attitude came in the second Test against New Zealand.

The Kiwis had scored a whopping 553 and in previous years in reply England would have settled for scraping a boring draw.

But not under the new regime. England went into bat intent on getting a big score and with Joe Root and Ollie Pope both hitting centuries, they reached 539.

This was followed in the second innings by a marvellous display of batting from Jonny Bairstow who hit 136 in 92 balls.

This wasn't wild slogging either but clean hits from the Yorkshireman.

Bairstow's wonderful summer came to end when he broke his leg playing golf, but hopefully this will not affect his confidence.

England's batting is still bit of a worry. Openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley have not been convincing and Pope has had to face the new ball earlier than he would have liked. However, the new No.3 has been pretty reliable.

Crawley is a frustrating figure in that he plays some wonderful cover drives, but is so susceptible to edging the ball outside the off stump.

However, his last innings of 69 not out will probably be enough to keep in the squad. Ironically, in the final Test the much criticised opening pair scored England's fastest-ever 100 opening partnership.

Not for the first time England had their bowlers to thank for their success led by the ever reliable 40-year-old Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad (36).

Their statistics are hugely impressive. Anderson took 27 wickets at 17.6, while Broad, playing one more match than Anderson took 29 wickets at an average of 27.

No wonder McCullum called them "phenomenal cricketers" adding "the confidence they are giving the other guys is remarkable."

They were well supported by Stokes who many feel should bowl more often. Even so, he managed 18 wickets at a 25 average.

Then there were Ollie Robinson and Matt Potts who both bowled well.

England also had several fast bowlers sidelined through injury including Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.

Jack Leach remains the resident spinner primarily because there are not too many alternatives apart from Moeen Ali.

Something that remains a concern is the length of their tail with Broad coming in at eight. It must give their opponents a psychological boost.

A final word from coach McCullum who many believe is the key to England's success. "I thought these guys were good but they are a lot better than I thought," he said.

However, he added a cautionary note with "there are still big challenges to come."

He no doubt was referring to the minor matter of facing Australia in the Ashes next year.

Whatever happens in the coming years, most England fans will be happy with the refreshing approach McCullum and Stokes have instilled in the team.

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