At six o’clock on Bank Holiday Monday the Lord’s crowd rose as one to salute a famous victory by the England cricket team, after a display of aggressive and fearless cricket had powered them to a thrilling test victory.
Hang on, that’s not right is it? Isn't this the much maligned side who came into this test embroiled in the kind of mess they seem to be creating a monopoly over?
After a winter that included the disastrous World Cup campaign and a tour of the Caribbean that cost coach Peter Moores his job, they faced an exciting New Zealand side playing an swashbuckling brand of cricket led by an imaginative captain – in short everything that England were not.
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When the home side collapsed to 30-4 on the first morning you could almost hear the collective groan echo around Lord’s. Not again surely?
Yet the happy crowds streaming out of the famous old ground were left to savour a victory that will live long in the memory. After a torrid 18 months, how England cricket needed a result like this.
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Cometh the hour
Most exciting of all was how the victory was founded upon exceptional performances from England’s new core of young players. None of those who witnessed Ben Stokes’ ferocious assault on the New Zealand attack on Sunday were left in any doubt that they had seen the next star of English cricket.
What a difference a year makes - the last time Stokes played a Test at Lord’s he completed a miserable pair, and was duly dropped. A year on, this was a player transformed. It is astonishing the difference confidence can make to a young player.
Whether dispatching New Zealand’s bowlers to all corners of the ground or taking key wickets ball in hand, this was the match Stokes established his place as the coming man of English cricket.
Such was the measure of Stokes’s performance that it relegated England’s newly crowned player of the year, Joe Root, to a supporting role.
His demotion during the whitewash Down Under has proved to be the making of him. Since then he has looked like a man totally at ease with himself at the crease, and boasts a Bradman-esque average of 94 over the past 12 months.
He will be scratching his head trying to understand how on earth he came away from this Test without his name on the honours board.
In the bowling ranks, Mark Wood showed promise as a third seamer. His skiddy action and pace created something different for a batsman to deal with as he added some much needed variety to an England attack that has looked too uniform during the past year.
Also overshadowed by Stokes’ all action display was Alastair Cook, whose performance will perhaps have brought the largest smile of all to the face of Andrew Strauss, the new director of cricket.
This was a vindication of him both as a batsman and captain. A perfectly judged 150 allowed others to swing from the hip at the other end, and propelled England to get into a position where they could win the game.
To cap it off, on Monday he enjoyed one those rare days which all captains dream of, where every plan seems to come off.
Final day victory
Moeen Ali dismissed Tim Southee with his first ball when he was reintroduced to the attack, while Ben Stokes was brought on and swiftly took the wicket of Mark Craig.
Cook’s hunch proved correct when his decision to give part-time off spinner Joe Root a bowl paid dividends when it produced the wicket of Corey Anderson. Even his much maligned use of a third man proved to be inspired when a tumbling Ali held on to an upper cut from last man Trent Boult.
The beaming smile on the face of the England captain as the victory was confirmed spoke volumes.
After a torrid 18 months for England, which has seen two coaches leave, a managing director sacked, and a certain South African-born middle order batsman unceremoniously shown the door, Cook has been left resembling the last man standing in English cricket as everyone but him carried the can for the team’s failures.
This victory - coupled with an upturn in his own form - will go some way to stem the relentless criticism he has faced recently.
England are still a long way from the finished article. Question marks still remain, notably over the opener’s position after Adam Lyth’s double failure, and whether Moeen Ali is really a Test match-winning spinner.
And with a rampant Australia side on their way there are sure to be many twists and turns before the summer is done. But this victory is just what English cricket required after all the doom and gloom. It could prove to be just the shot in the arm England needed.
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