Ben Stokes should probably try and nail a second draft of England’s game before promising to rewrite Test cricket

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It’s good to be ambitious and open minded and not hidebound by the past. It’s maybe not quite so smart to talk about how you’re going to rewrite how Test cricket is played – particularly if you’re England.

Ben Stokes has mostly spoken well since he took on the captaincy, but this wasn’t one of his better comments.

“We’re trying to rewrite how Test cricket is being played in England,” he said after beating India a month ago.

Those four successive successful run chases – three against New Zealand and one against India – were probably worth getting carried away with, but carried away is surely what Stokes was. Because while those initial results represented a more impressive turnaround than Derek Zoolander’s revelation of ‘Magnum’, England were still fundamentally England – as they’ve just proven.

An innings defeat to South Africa didn’t feel like an aspect of something revolutionary and new. It didn’t feel new at all. If you’ve been watching England play Test cricket these last few years, it felt very, very familiar.

In which case presumably Stokes’ and Brendon McCullum’s attempted rewrite continues. And rightly so. As we said when England were riding somewhat higher: chasing near enough 400 to win in the fourth innings probably isn’t sustainable, but maybe the unambiguous mindset is. Anything that helps simplify the players’ approach will probably result in a net gain in a format where weaknesses don’t come much greater than second-guessing yourself.

The issue is not the attempt to rewrite something (England’s Test game) that previously didn’t read very well at all. That’s an entirely logical thing to do. The issue is crowing about this amazing new novel you’ve come up with when all you’ve really done is string a couple of early chapters together.


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  1. I’m not sure Stokes is coming across as very likeable as skipper. Ironically for someone so intent on promoting positivity, he seems to start every interview in a defensive mindset, as if the journalist has absolutely no right to be questioning the Bold New Approach.

  2. I’m all for an ‘exciting positive ‘ brand of cricket. And as for cricketers expressing themselves.. ‘.more of this sort of thing’ I say

    But the new England tactic which is to lead to re-writing the way cricket is played seems to be; get tonked for 3 and a half days then rely on a guy who is having the summer of his life to pull of some sort of Roy of the Rovers style rescue mission.

    I got a bit annoyed after the test, I think it was the one where YJB and Root chased something ridiculous, and Stokes said part of him wished they were chasing 450 to see if they could get them.

    Why not concede the first three innings, then the opposition could just set England a thousand to win?

  3. Apropos of nothing, on Saturday I agreed to help a local historian with a bit of largesse work in a Norfolk churchyard. He kindly gave me a book he had written on local history. I freely admit that it was only when I got home did I realise it was Richard Jefferson, father of Will. Richard played for Surrey 1961-66 ‘A right-arm medium-fast bowler and right-handed bat, he was mentioned in a 1981 article by John Arlott on the best English cricketers never to have played for England. John Arlott wrote that “he may well have been the greatest loss to English cricket in the post-war period”. Richard was delightful company and I’m looking forward to lunch and a walk on the coast with him on Sunday before his talk at the Church.

  4. I did get the feeling during the successes earlier in the summer that there was a widespread journalistic attempt to shoehorn the New England into a cavalier template – swashbuckling, devil-may-care romantics, the sort of people who deal with failure by throwing caution to the wind, having fun, and not being at home to Mr Negative.

    Difficult to avoid putting people and teams into tried and tested boxes, and maybe it’s not so much journalists as the public as a whole who want to believe we’ve suddenly got a team of Gowers and Flintoffs; but to state the obvious, this is not exactly the vibe Stokes or anyone else in the team gives off. If we do have a sustained period of failure, it’ll be interesting to see how things go.

    1. A lot of nuance (often necessarily) gets shorn away in any given article. This sometimes results in a slightly simplistic mischaracterisation of a team’s intended approach.

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