Amongst the fabulous torrent of superlatives issuing forth after the recent (Stokes?) Lords Test, a common theme emerged. Even the cynics spoke of ‘bathing’ or inferred in some way both the warming and the cleansing of the sport. I, in my provincial innocence, tweeted about the ‘warm afterglow’. We were irresistibly drawn into hopeful and strangely moralistic dangles outside off stump. It was bloody lovely.
The drama itself was top level. Hikes in emotion and that mix of colossal heaving to the boundary and quietly magnificent recovery; both sides contributing. For England fans the possibly epoch-changing gear-change in the batting and the batting line-up. Stokes/Buttler/Moeen Ali. Six seven eight. Not so much an order as a challenge, a warning – an opportunity. For the first time in aeons Our Lot were proper slapping the opposition across the fizzog with a Gunn and Moore gauntlet;
I say. You blackcap people.We’re comin’ to avago… and we think we’re (ahem) ‘ard enough.
Now you don’t have to be a season-ticket-holder at Lords or anywhere else to know that this may not always work out; Ali’s bowling may be a liability/the slash-and-burn positivity may fall on its arris. But after years of talk this felt like the right kind of walk – a hearty, twenty-first century gambol, in fact. Shrewd – clearly Moeen can bat at an opener’s watchful rate if the young bucks get blown away – but essentially liberating. I think that’s where all this warm glow stuff comes from.
For us to have arrived here so immediately after an unrelenting period of negativity and uproar is remarkable. Who’s remembering messy departures and unpromising arrivals now? Who’s even remembering that South African bloke with his flamingo shot? We (because surely we’re entitled to claim some involvement in this – some credit even, right?) we the people have surged forward and up alongside Rooty and Cooky and the New Botham. Something about this New England represents us better and blow me we’re queuing round the block.
This marvellous confluence of form and fight must feel hugely gratifying to both Mr Strauss and the largely unheralded Mr Farbrace. Am I alone in wondering where and how exactly that perennial but thin claim towards positivity turned into Stokes/Buttler/Ali? Was that a Strauss/Farbrace/Cook combo or just the coach, effectively? Whomever or however that may prove to be a big moment – it certainly feels like one.
The beauty of all this upfulness may be that necessary caveats around caution and patience may be reduced to an irrelevance if the side continues to believe. The structure as well as the personnel are in place. Conditions have changed,freeing up instinctively/naturally bold players to do their thing. How many times have we heard this spoken of only to be bitterly disappointed come the moment?
There are delicious ironies here – quirks of fate and form and of the game.
Weirdly and wonderfully the loosening of responsibility made possible by the inclusion of classically Test-worthy players like Cook, Ballance (actually, surely?) and Bell, end-stopped by Moeen at eight, really should now produce both results and refreshing, energising cricket. Because Root/Stokes/Buttler have insurance; the blend is there. Thus trad virtues – early watchfulness/straight bats – beget revolution.
In the gloriously honeyed present it feels as though with the dynamic new era pressures to win may actually fall, as fans buy in enthusiastically to committed, attacking sport. Punters really will roar approval at the aspiration as well as the execution. If that isn’t win-win for the management I don’t know what is?
With Cook returning to traditionally superb levels with the bat and Root making a mockery of the notion that this is a serious and difficult business expectations might justifiably rise. But consider how equipped this side now looks to man up and give it some, should they ever be hooo… I dunno… 30-odd for 4. Some bloke with attitude might just sidle on out and not so much counter-attack as lay waste to whatever comes his way. Before you know it the crowd’s behind him and crushing defeat becomes national festival.
This latter phenomenon is a significant boost. Cricket on the front pages; cricket as plainly outstanding sport. The feeling (dare we hope?) that this is only the beginning of a long and spectacular summer for the English game. Even if Tests to come prove too much.
It’s simply illogical to expect even a revitalising England to win series against the mighty Aussies and the pretty damn near mighty South Africans. But that may not matter so much as the permanent switching over into a game that is contingent more on the intelligent expression of talent than the (mere) ‘tactical’ occupation of the crease or use of the time. So even if our batting does underachieve – or more likely the bowling attack proves vulnerable – meaningful progress and great entertainment are feasible if the positive life-force continues to pulse.
What augurs well on this is the change of guard amongst the hierarchy. Those who viewed Strauss as a conservative may have underestimated him. I was amongst those who feared his administration might reflect too closely his rather dour brilliance as a batsman. However the confirmation that Farbrace and above him Bayliss will lead the England posse forward surely implies yet greater dynamism and a closer link to what we might term short-format, ‘aggressive’ philosophies. Strauss has effectively sanctioned this – striking out from his first over – and fair play to him on that.
So there’s a good vibe going. Even in the knowledge that bigger tests approacheth. Bigger tests featuring brash and (probably) moustachioed Australians confident of asking a few questions/getting under our skin/blowing us away. It’s possible. It’s possible but the Bigger Question – there’s always a Bigger Question, right? – is whether we blink.
Will we still believe enough to counter with undeniable force? When the inevitable squeeze is applied? Will we select in order to play that way? Is it too much to ask of Stokes and Buttler that they bury their fear and play with some intelligence but masses of faith? What’s the quality of our commitment?
Following Lords these are live questions – meaning there is some real prospect that the changes are real. Say it quietly to start but England are daring to march. Led unsurprisingly and unflinchingly by Stokes.