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Winning Just One Part Of Stokes’ Grand Plan

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Published on 16 Dec 2022 10:40 am (UK Time)

In the immediate aftermath of England’s series victory over Pakistan at Multan, Ben Stokes took a path less well travelled. The reaction spoke more of an overall satisfaction that transcended the win: “This game comes with enough pressure. A lot of people would love to be part of this dressing room. It is great when winning but take that away we are just here having a good time with a group of mates.”

There lies the sheer exuberance that Stokes and Brendon McCullum have brought to their band of very merry men. Now they are going for the whitewash that would be more perfect than a Bing Crosby Christmas chorus. It looks like the Australians are ever so irritable about Bazball too. Bring on 2023.

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Flair and No Fear is Stokes Mantra

Stokes and McCullum have vacuum-sealed the side from external and internal hot air. Negative chat does not get a look in. It’s all about what can be achieved without the deep analysis that can bring the fear of failure. There has been much talk about the warmth and camaraderie of England’s football team so it is apt to shine a light on the Test squad, especially when the length of tour duty is on average much longer than Gareth Southgate’s ensemble.

England a Team Transformed from Ashes Trauma

A striking feature of Stokes’s mini reign of nine matches (eight won) has been the feedback from the more measured commentators in the box. Mike Atherton was struggling to recall a similar impact from a previous skipper. Not one for hyperbole, Atherton is certain that the Durham all-rounder will be one of England’s greatest skippers if he continues on this path: “He’s transformed England’s Test match team. He’s galvanised them. Think where England were. They were terrible at the end of the Ashes.”

One of the celebrated features of  ‘McStokes’ is how they have shifted the dial completely from the desperation to perform. Winning is the sweetest moment but a transient one too.  There’s been a shift in mentality from being totally focused on the results game to living life outside the bubble too. The dare is to go for gold even if it seems reckless to outside observers who have been fed a staple diet of what should happen in Test cricket.

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Stokes and McCullum Tearing up Test Traditions

McCullum and Stokes don’t live by the numbers. However, the numbers they are producing in have never really been seen before in terms of scoring rates. Traditionally, the attritional method was to ground opponents into the dust. It was all about breaking wills and having huge 450 run plus safety nets. The absurdist nature of batting on and on without any danger of getting beaten was acknowledged. It was just the done thing. Stokes is aware of the broader cinematic sweep of entertainment needed to keep Test cricket alive.

England could have applied that at Multan when they were well over 300 ahead with five wickets and the best part of two-and-three quarter days in the bank. They lost their last five for 19 runs going for broke. Pakistan still had a sniff and were probably favourites at 290-5. In an alternative universe, if England are beaten and then collapse in Karachi, Bazball gets the once-over for its laissez-faire carelessness. This is the life of the love and loathe that McCullum’s team want to leave behind. Recrimination for bad results is a torturous path. No point going there. Things will sit easier with this B and B duo. They get each other and how life attacks.

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Maybe there will be a drop-off at Pakistan’s fortress, simply because these are normal human beings who have been raising their game to the tune of their outstanding leaders. That would be the old line to take. This England does not get pigeonholed though. They will do what they think is right. At the moment, they are seeing things very clearly indeed.

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