To say English Test cricket was a mess before the organization went through root and branch reform in the spring of 2022, would, to say the least, be putting it mildly. Indeed, England had only recorded one win in 17 attempts before the Black Caps jetted into London Heathrow Airport for a three-match Test series that was set to begin in early June. Before that, a humiliating series loss to the West Indies in the Caribbean at the beginning of the year was about as low as the country’s Test side had been since the devastating 5-0 Ashes whitewash in 2014.
Needless to say, change was badly needed with Joe Root’s leadership constantly being questioned and labeled unhealthy with his captaincy during the series in the Caribbean having, in effect, reached an untenable position even if the Yorkshireman was determined to carry on. In addition to a change of captain, head coach Chris Silverwood was relieved of his duties whilst Ashley Giles, England’s director of cricket, was also asked to step down immediately. Following on from those dismissals and after a lengthy interview process, Ben Stokes was appointed as captain whilst Brendon McCullum was given the head coach’s role. Alterations continued in the boardroom as Rob Key was awarded the title of director of cricket and all of a sudden, England had a brand new broom with which to sweep clean.
A new dawn
The broom in question though has resembled more of a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner with England now ruthlessly hoovering up the opposition since these sweeping changes were introduced. Indeed, a barnstorming Test series win over New Zealand – who currently occupy the number one ranked spot in the world – was proof of how effective these tough decisions had been.
🗣️ "Phenomenal performance!"🗣️ "We're gonna come even harder next time!"
In many respects, it’s almost like a switch has been flicked with England going from a docile side consumed by fear to one that craves the intensity that comes with being involved in the heat of battle. Naturally, many people at the top of English cricket deserve credit for the dramatic improvement in results but in particular, Ben Stokes’ insatiable desire to win has been the catalyst for the instant turnaround.
The fiery all-rounder has always been a talismanic figure for the Three Lions but now that he has been handed the captaincy, the entire team looks galvanized by his eagerness to contest everything that happens on the pitch. Indeed, Stokes is, in short, unable to sit still and watch the game pass him by which ultimately means that he wants to claim every wicket, take each catch, and hit all the boundaries. This appetite for the game undoubtedly comes from a deep love for the sport and it shows in everything that Stokes does on the pitch. In fact, you imagine that Stokes would have the same level of intensity if you were to play a game of garden cricket with him such is the enjoyment that this brilliant all-rounder derives from the battle to compete.
Essentially, the 31-year-old will do everything to win which, crucially, also involves pulling those around him over the line. This ability to inspire a total commitment to the cause is why the ECB quite rightly put their faith in him to lead England forward into this exciting new era.
In reality, there wasn’t another candidate who showed the same willingness to become captain, and revealingly, it was Stokes’ remarkable decision to turn down a lucrative IPL contract in 2022 in order to prepare himself for the summer’s Test encounters with New Zealand and South Africa that made him the outstanding candidate. You can only imagine how disappointed the Rajasthan Royals were upon hearing the news after banking on Stokes’ participation to help them win the 2022 Tata IPL. As it turned out, that despair wasn’t misplaced when you consider the Royals could only finish second and may have missed a golden opportunity owing to Stokes’ absence given that, as of the 20th of June, the IPL franchise have been given long IPL odds of 7/1 to win the 2023 showpiece. Put another way, the franchise may not be given a better chance to win the IPL than what they had in 2022.
Of course, Stokes and his meaty Gunn & Moore Diamond bat could return to India next year and help the Rajasthan Royals win their first title since 2008, but it’s now evident that the all-rounder will prioritize his role with England which may mean he decides to skip the IPL for the foreseeable future.