Can a new captain and a new coach make a difference to the team’s fortunes in a matter of days? The rest of the personnel remains pretty much the same, so does a team start winning only because of the changes at the top? If one looks at the manner in which the England team chased down the target of 299 in 50 overs and that too on the final day of the second Test match then the answer seems to be yes. The England team with another captain and coach had, just a year earlier, declined a similar challenge of getting 270 odd to win on the final day against the same opponent, New Zealand.
So, it is the impact of Brendon McCullum as the new coach and Ben Stokes as the new England captain that has changed the thinking and approach towards a game so much that England went on to win at a canter in the Trent Bridge, Nottingham Test match.
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Truth be told, any coach or captain is only as good as the team that it has. This England set up is different from the previous one because the best England players are playing while the New Zealand team didn’t have its skipper and a couple of other players available. Last year, England baffled everybody with its team selections — not picking even one of James Anderson and Stuart Broad to play the opening Test match of The Ashes series and that too on the pace and seam friendly Gabba pitch. It was a mistake of gigantic proportion and it was pointed out even before a ball was bowled in that game. Not to pick bowlers, who, between them had almost 1200 Test wickets under their belts, and especially Stuart Broad, who, in The Ashes series in England earlier in the year, was dismissing David Warner for fun, was just a head-scratching blunder. No wonder, England lost that series so badly. Then the same mistake was compounded by not picking the duo for the tour to the West Indies where England went on to lose the series. So, England didn’t always have the best players in the field, and, which never helps. Yes, there was the Covid pandemic and the issue of being in a tight bubble and the need to release a few players from that bubble and so the team may not have had the best players available.
English cricket has always been obsessed with theories which are not always practical. With Mccullum and Stokes, who were both born in New Zealand, the theory aspect would be the least of their concern. Going out with the best possible team and then playing each ball on its merit rather than a particular theory of how to play, will mean that England will be playing with a clear and free mind and that invariably produces good results.
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Of course, England is playing at home and in familiar conditions and weather so will be feeling a lot better as it enters the field and it really would be interesting to see this England team play against India in India. Would the batsmen be mentally dismissed in the change room itself after the first turning ball or will they come out with the resolve to tackle it positively? It would be interesting to see them in Australia, too, where the opposition sometimes gets overpowered by the sheer non-stop aggression that they face on and off the field.
These two series will actually answer the question if a change in captain and coach can change the fortunes of a team. Yes, the mindset can be altered to a degree but does the skill level improve so much as to be able to win overseas?
That will be the half million pound question for sure.
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