Brendon McCullum has promised that England will keep faith with their attacking game during the Ashes despite Tuesday’s extraordinary one-run loss to New Zealand in Wellington.
The hosts levelled a two-match series by becoming just the fourth side in 146 years of Test cricket to win after following-on.
The Basin Reserve contest will go down as an all-time classic, with England asking New Zealand to follow on 226 runs behind, only to struggle in pursuit of a target of 258.
England, despite being denied a seventh successive victory, have won 10 out of 12 Tests since captain Ben Stokes and coach McCullum, himself a former New Zealand skipper, joined forces last year following a woeful run of one win in 17 matches at this level.
McCullum, while disliking the ‘Bazball’ reference to his nickname, was adamant there would be no let-up in England’s aggressive approach during a five-match series at home to arch-rivals Australia.
“We’ll try to play the cricket that we want,” McCullum told the BBC. “If winning is the outcome at the end, fantastic. We’re going into it with a squad that believes in one another and has a style of play which we will uphold throughout.
“If Australia are too good for us, then so be it. If they’re not, we’ll have the urn,” he added.
Stephen Harmison, commentating for Talksport radio, insisted England’s mindset was good for Test cricket as a whole given fears that fans worldwide are losing interest in the five-day game.
The former England fast bowler, a key figure in a dramatic two-run win over Australia at Edgbaston during the 2005 Ashes, said: “New Zealand may have won this Test match, but I think cricket was a winner, close second.”
There was even approval of England’s new approach from across the fence.
“It’s great for Test cricket the way England are playing, and it’s good for Test cricket going forward,” said New Zealand’s winning captain Tim Southee after the game.
But given how quickly Stokes’ men score their runs – their first innings total of 435-8 declared was compiled in fewer than 88 overs – they could have batted again after dismissing New Zealand for 209 without compromising their beliefs.
That way England would have likely made the game safe and still given their bowlers time to take 10 second-innings wickets.
By enforcing the follow-on they provided New Zealand with their only way, however slim, back into the match.
Another question-mark over making the hosts bat again was England were a bowler ‘light’, with Stokes – an effective medium-pacer when fit – only delivering two overs in New Zealand’s second innings due to a persistent knee problem.
“I have a four-month period now to get it better before the Ashes because I want to be turning up in Birmingham ready to fulfil my role properly,” said Stokes.
The 31-year-old all-rounder added: “I’m not going to lie. It’s incredibly frustrating to know something is holding me back.”
As it was, a partnership of 121 between first-innings century-maker Joe Root and Stokes almost saw England to victory.
But the pair might reflect on how they each succumbed to a short-ball ploy from the admirable Neil Wagner, who also ended the match by having No 11 James Anderson caught behind, that could scarcely have been clearer had the left-arm quick signalled his intention in neon lights.
WHAT A GAME OF CRICKET
New Zealand have won it by the barest of margins…
This is test cricket at its finest ❤️
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) February 28, 2023
Even so, England might still have won had not the in-form Harry Brook, fresh from his brilliant first-innings 186, been run out without facing a ball – a freak dismissal the 24-year-old is unlikely to suffer again in his career.
OH MY WORD. WHAT IS GOING ON.
Harry Brook is run out without facing a ball…
England in real strife 😬#NZvENG pic.twitter.com/g3kC3ss4zA
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) February 27, 2023
Nevertheless, games such as this are rare and given England’s approach, a loss was always likely to be as spectacular as many of their recent wins.
“I just think everyone is appreciating this for what it is,” said Stokes. “That doesn’t mean for a second we’re not fussed about winning or losing.
“We love winning, but if it doesn’t work out that way, we’ll hold our hands up and say the opposition were better than us.”
© Agence France-Presse