Taha Hashim relives a transformative month for the England men’s Test side.
May 27, Lord’s
Baz is in town, rocking an England top. Who saw this coming? Forget the IPL and the white-ball gig, he wants a proper challenge. Sat at ECB HQ, he looks almost a bit too chilled out. Has he not clocked how bad things have been?
He gets out the key messages. Bring some enthusiasm, take away some of the pressure. It’ll be a positive environment, but not everyone has to bat like the skipper. Pope at No.3 is worth a go.
He goes for the big picture too. T20 cricket has given him a great life, but Test cricket remains the pinnacle in his view. And he wants to keep it alive. “If Test cricket is going to survive and thrive then England has to be at the top of the tree.”
It’s bold. A win or two would be handy before we get all existential.
June 2, Lord’s, England v New Zealand – day one
The new era is here! And it begins with… Broad and Anderson. New Zealand are 7-3, the all-timers are back at the party, the slip cordon is stacked, and the catches are sticking. Then there’s the new kid. And he looks the part. Potts nicks off Kane Williamson with his fifth ball in international cricket, and the game is easy. England are rampant; New Zealand are all out for 132.
But then you remember that England still have to bat. And, well, they haven’t been particularly good at this of late. So when Zak Crawley and Alex Lees put on 59 for the first wicket, things still feel on edge, because it’s coming. You’ve seen it all winter, and it’s staying for the summer: The Collapse. From 92-2 to 100-7. It ends on 116-7. And you wonder whether anything has really changed.
June 5, Lord’s, England v New Zealand – day four
It should be nervy. England still need 61 more runs and one more wicket will bring the tail. But England also have a liberated Joe Root. He’s surely sleeping a little bit better now he’s not managing the circus. And it shows. He dances to his first fourth-innings Test ton and the message is loud and clear: he’s the best red-ball batter in the world.
It’s an impressive win, but it’s not revolutionary. Root and Stokes hit the runs. Anderson and Broad shared 10 wickets. Potts is proper, but England haven’t had any trouble producing Test-quality quicks. The top order’s still not working. Pope scores 7 and 10 in his first fling at No.3. New Zealand will be back and better at Trent Bridge.
June 11, Trent Bridge, England v New Zealand – day two
Look at me, aren’t I clever? New Zealand put up 553. England finish on 90-1. Either New Zealand win or we go to Headingley with England 1-0 up.
June 12, Trent Bridge, England v New Zealand – day three
Um, what was that? Did England just hit 383 runs in a day? Has Root ever batted better than that? Where did Alex Lees – strike rate of 27.39 in the Caribbean – find all of these shots? Pope is scratchy at times, but that doesn’t matter for now. He’s got a hundred, his first in Test cricket since January 2020. Stokes plays as if there’s a match still left to win: 46 off 33 balls, out trying to destroy Michael Bracewell.
OK, this feels like something.
June 13, Trent Bridge, England v New Zealand – day four
Root reverse-scoops Tim Southee for six. Tim Southee.
June 14, Trent Bridge, England v New Zealand – day five
Free tickets at Notts, and we could be on for a properly thrilling finish. A real nail-biter. At tea England are 139-4, requiring 160 more. Bairstow and Stokes are building together a tidy partnership but there’s still a lot left to do. We’re talking Headingley 2019 vibes for the finish: maybe just a wicket or two left when we get to the end.
But then Bairstow hits a couple of boundaries. And then he hits a six. And then he hits another one. He keeps swinging, and the ball keeps flying. It all becomes a bit of a blur. When Bairstow is finally done, he has 136 off 92 and the second-fastest ton for England in Test cricket.
Bairstow’s Test career seemed lost and confused for years. He was the guy who struggled against the straight ball, the one who couldn’t have white- and red-ball glory at the same time. He was the keeper who didn’t have the gloves. He was the No.7 who was batting at No.3. None of that matters now. He’s just watching the ball and hitting it. And it’s working.
Stokes and Foakes seal it comfortably and the captain revels in the moment. “That blows away Headingley, it blows away Lord’s and the World Cup final.”
June 24, Headingley, England v New Zealand – day two
England are 55-6. Trent Boult has bowled an electrifying spell: Crawley, Lees and Pope – all bowled. Stokes is in the entertainment business; he smashes Southee for six but then clunks Wagner to Williamson at mid-off for 18.
This is it then, the end of the honeymoon. You can’t always play like this. You have to assess the conditions. You have to respect the Dukes. You can’t just expect to rock up every week and pretend that this is some nothing one-dayer, some… Um, Jamie Overton’s batting alright here. And so is Bairstow. Right, um, they’re doing more than OK.
Fine, they’ll get past 100 but New Zealand already have too much. This is Test cricket. You have to respect the… Oh, they’re past 150. And then 200 as Overton smashes Wagner for 14 off one over. The day ends with England 264-6. This is not normal.
June 26, Headingley, England v New Zealand – day four
Ten wickets in the match for Jack Leach, who suffered a concussion at Lord’s and didn’t have a great game at Trent Bridge. But Stokes backs him. He gives the left-armer the overs and pushes him to keep attacking with fielders up, not on the boundary. England didn’t play a frontline spinner against New Zealand last summer. The slow stuff matters again.
“My biggest thing is having belief in myself and I think that’s what Ben and Baz have really helped me with, and it looks like that’s starting to pay off,” Leach says.
Also, Root reverse-scoops Neil Wagner for six. Neil Wagner.
June 27, Headingley, England v New Zealand – day five
It should be a tight finish. A nervy one. But it doesn’t feel it at all. Everyone knows where this is going before a ball’s bowled. Pope is out early but Bairstow comes in and smashes it. Root caresses his way to a series average of 99. A seven-wicket win, a comfortable chase of 296, all part of the routine. It seems like they do this every week. And that’s because they do this every week. Honestly, who saw this coming?