Top English bowlers often put containment above the most important priority of taking wickets. Simply put, I’ve never seen a batter – no matter how good – who scores runs that show up in a tally book while sitting in the clubhouse after being fired. First-class hitters cannot be contained in the middle; they eventually find a way to score at an acceptable rate. This is one of the reasons why they are considered dangerous players.
While Stokes is at it, he should also ignore all of former captain Joe Root’s theories about polishing the tail of the opposition. Root was not a good captain, and one of the first tasks of the English hierarchy is to recalibrate the way they handle rejection from the lower end of the order.
Another problem for England – which was evident at Lord’s – is that they have a very good seam attack, well suited to home conditions, but they desperately need workable plans against top teams when a pitch is dish. This is where it helps to have a balanced offense with a mix of swing and spin but definitely containing at least one good, fast and authentic pitcher. England have been seriously unlucky with injuries to fast bowlers in the recent past.
What they need from Stokes is a captain who encourages a thoughtful approach when things look grim. A team can acquire a dubious reputation among their opponents and currently England are known as a team that can be forced defensively by counter-attacking lower order hitters. Stokes needs to change that perception.
I’ve always believed that if you give a reasonably aggressive captain to a team of competitors and they want to play for him, the result will be more wins than losses.
It takes courage, and despite the risk of injury, it would be wise to look for an England bowler with real pace. This move would result in Anderson and Broad splitting up, which would cause an outcry, but it’s the right move. The English attack must rejuvenate.
Anderson is generally the better bowler, and if fit should remain the first-choice player when playing in England. This is an area where England get emotional and therefore fail to pick their best combinations.
Almost immediately at Lord’s, England felt the pain of needing a substitute when Jack Leach was ruled out of the game with a concussion. Rather than bemoaning the situation, England should see it as a fluke: it’s time to move forward rather than look back to solve the lack of good spinners.
If it’s a county cricket problem, that’s someone else’s business. What the Stokes-McCullum combination needs to do is make sure they pick players who are likely to win, and then give them the confidence to think positively. This is a daunting task in itself and it won’t happen overnight, but it will require the frank reflection and discussion that both are renowned for.
I’ve always believed that if you give a reasonably aggressive captain to a team of competitors and they want to play for him, the result will be more wins than losses. England chose the right captain in Stokes. They gave him a good lieutenant in McCullum, and the pair got off to a good start. However, the hard part is to keep doing a good job and this is where England need to show that what happened in the past is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.