Stokes and McCullum combine to inspire bowling attack to revive England | Barney Ronay

JHere are some dreamy images of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England’s inner circle, the bro-tocracy, during the South Africa Test series. At Old Trafford there was the balcony painting after the Stokes Hundred, the coach and captain bathed in the August sun, a collage of sunglasses, beards, guns, tattooed sleeves , giving off an alpha energy so powerful that it may have been responsible for melting part of the pavilion’s circuitry.

At the Oval, there were shots of the two of them lounging together on the lawn a la Baz-Head Revisited, Sebastian and Charles wearing Cinch-branded lycra tracksuits.

Genuine elite sporting friendships are rare. More often than not, these are forged out of necessity, external pressures and the illusion of team spirit generated by victory. But Stokes and McCullum’s relationship really seems to be based on mutual affection, as well as a fertile patchwork of ideas and intentions. It may sound crude and speculative, but the best working relationships can often be simple and comforting.

Stokes lost his father Kiwi last year. For now, as the sun shines, he truly seems to have found a Kiwi big brother.

Either way, the England men’s red ball officials look happy. Not only is it infectious, good for business, and a great TV product, it hasn’t been able to tell for some time. And it was an undeniably vital summer of Test cricket.

How did they do it? From one win out of seventeen to six out of seven. From emotional exhaustion to the summer of Baz-love. Most of the attention will be on the stick, if only because it’s the easiest thing. Fourth-inning chases, the shimmy down the field to the seam ball, Jonny Bairstow tackles world-class bowlers as a man happily pushes his way through a wall of drywall with a polo mallet. This was the iconography of the summer.

But in many ways, what Stokes and McCullum did with the bowling was even more vital and even more impressive, especially the handling of Stuart Broad. England needed Broad this summer. Whisper it, and certainly whisper it around Stuart Broad, but he might not have played much if everyone had been in good shape. They weren’t: and Broad is still fit and still going. In all areas of life, sometimes not going away is truly a vital quality.

So Broad played the Seven Tests, a powerful, sometimes disruptive character desperate to play another Summer Ashes just when his role begins to shrink; and placed center stage from the start of this tricky thing.

From that potentially dangerous start, Broad’s management has been highly impressive: convincing him of his vital importance to the new era in the unwanted role of First Change Stuart; directing really good bowling spells that make matches turn; in the sense that the theatricality of Broad, the great presence of ego has become in this new England team a kind of affectionate comedy.

Broad gave a brilliant interview at the Oval, an interview that was essentially an advertisement for Stuart Broad, covering topics as diverse as his personal importance in this new era (“It’s been very powerful”), to talk about his own chief new tactical role, bowling more, not protecting his characters, trying to get wickets, because he thought that was just what he desperately needed to do all along. It’s, as management theorists would say, a big buy-in.

At the end of that, there will be a temptation to regroup Broad, as always, with James Anderson, to see another defiant twin Branderson summer, something that may have benefited Broad to some extent. In reality, they are quite different. Broad has been very good for a very long time.

Stuart Broad playing for England
Stuart Broad’s handling has been impressive with the bowler playing an important role for England. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Anderson, on the other hand, is a cricketing genius and a true Hall of Famer. And really that has been his summer. Just look at the numbers. In six Tests, Anderson has 27 wickets at 17.6, sublime with every spell, a master of his craft. Broad is 29-27 in one more game, which is pretty good, although home summers have a premium and no one can beat. Stokes are 18-25. Ollie Robinson and Matt Potts, who like Broad have also played seven Tests combined, are 32-23. “If it was the Ashes tomorrow and David Warner opens, I think I would open the bowling,” Broad offered himself at the end of the Oval Round. And while that’s a great boost theory, big brand recalls – Ashes, Warner, big moments, I’m Stuart Broad – that’s also not correct.

Robinson’s initial selection had always seemed to be part of a long-term de-escalation of the Test squad, even though they are in many ways very different – Robinson a kind of Ginsters man and Lucozade, a queer on the kind of relief vibe, Large rigidly shaped and focused. But Robinson has also been handled extremely well by Stokes and McCullum, told what to do, made to feel like an adult while he does it, and had the chance to show what a wonderfully skilled and astute bowler he is on the tactical plan.

It’s on the pitch that teams really come together, and where they can also unravel. Merging those needs and interests, forging a decisive attack out of those aging lions plus Jack Leach, who, let’s not forget, won a home Test this summer, has been hugely impressive.

It is of course necessary to see this in the context of a range of undercooked South African batters, as well as very practical domestic conditions. But Stokes has also been very good tactically and is miles ahead of his predecessor in bowling changes, fielding plans and generally keeping his players’ energy high and happy.

At that point, back to Ben and Baz, and the question of happiness, which is significant in other ways. McCullum said something interesting in his own postgame TV interview. Asked about his approach, he talked a bit about fun: how it first draws us into the sport; and how it goes next. It’s the catch-22 of professionalism. Play it because you like it.

So keep playing even if you hate it.

McCullum tried to bring back the fun. It’s both a good team move and also a deep point on Test cricket, which this English group often talk about preserving and elevating. What is Test Cricket’s USP? What’s wrong with him? No easy revenue streams or time slot for the casual viewer.

But there is something about Test cricket that cannot be synthesized, a deep, slow-burning well of affection among players and spectators, an ability to create longer stories and a kind of love for the sport and its beats that exceeds the current franchise. work.

Does anyone really enjoy watching treadmill cricket? Is it bathed in golden light? Are players really gripped by this, outside of the IPL? Players will go where the money is. But the money and the audience are there too in the longer form. And Test cricket, alone, can offer these other sensations, this other kind of spectacle. Regardless of the detailed business strategy, Ben and Baz’s summer showed that that meaning of life is still there.

Stokes and McCullum combine to inspire bowling attack to revive England | Barney Ronay

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