Hardik Worah
13 Sep 2022 | 05:20 AM

Didn't realise Stokes would be this good: McCullum

England won six of their seven Tests this home summer

Under the new leadership of head coach Brendon McCullum and skipper Ben Stokes, England had quite a memorable home summer. After a run of just one win in 17 Tests prior to their appointments, they whitewashed world Test champions New Zealand, chased down a record target to topple India in the Covid-delayed fifth Test, and also got the better of South Africa. Overall, England won six of the seven Tests they played this summer.

"It's fantastic. You start the summer off and you have huge aspirations, but you know the challenges you're going to meet. New Zealand were the world Test champions, India were red-hot when we came up against them, and South Africa were top of the world Test Championship as well, so we knew the size of the challenge," McCullum told Sky Sports after England defeated South Africa in the final Test to clinch the series 2-1.

"We almost wanted to take results out of play - I know we're judged by them - but almost take them out of play and play the style of cricket that is authentic to Stokesy's leadership and the guys that are in the side, and I felt we executed that nicely. We're well aware you're going to be judged by results, but for us it was a little bit bigger than that.

"When you get an opportunity such as this, and the responsibility of being in these positions of leadership, you look at where Test cricket is around the world and how important it is to all of those who have played the game beforehand, and the relevance of it in international cricket.

"For us, it was a matter of trying to bring a bit of enjoyment back, try and bring the fans in to make sure they're enjoying Test cricket, and hopefully provide a bit more relevance to a game which has probably been under a little bit of pressure of late. That was the big goal and it will continue to be so moving forward."

The former New Zealand skipper also heaped heavy praise on Stokes. McCullum didn't shy away from accepting that he was actually surprised by how influential and successful Stokes has been as a skipper. "Well, I didn't actually want the (England) job! But now I've got it, I'm loving it! Absolutely I am, and it's certainly different to what I've ever done before.

"I'm loving the opportunity to work with some of the best players in the world. I always looked at English cricket and thought there was an immense amount of talent. I didn't quite realise how much talent there is and how good these guys are and the way they think about the game.

"It's been an absolute pleasure to work alongside them, and I've particularly enjoyed working alongside the skipper (Stokes). He's a rare human being and an incredible person. He's a great thinker of the game, his messaging has been excellent as well. I thought he'd be good, I didn't realise he'd be this good. A natural leader. It's a wonderful fit for him."

England were hammered by South Africa in the first Test but managed to stage a comeback in the next two encounters. Stokes was pleased with the fact that almost everyone contributed to this series win and England didn’t have any stand-out performer(s) as such.

"I think it has been a great series for us as a team. It has been a series where we haven't had any real individual standout performances but different people throughout the series have put their hands up in crucial periods for us," said Stokes.

"In a team sport that's what you want, you want to be able to turn to different people at different times and hope that they can break the game open for you with the ball and bat and that is what we have definitely managed to do this whole series. For me, it is about the clarity of the decisions.

"Me and Brendon are the guys who are sending this message to this group of players, I said to the lads in the dressing room the other day that the person who is delivering the message can only do so much. But I thanked all my team, my backroom staff and my coaches that they have all bought into this.

"There is a reason why we have gone out and been able to perform and have the confidence in each other to go and do that. That is something that is very rare and something that you don't see that often. This game here with it being shortened, our main aim was it ending in a result.

"We felt we owed it to ourselves, we owed it to the nation who have shown their support throughout this whole summer towards us and we will always continue to play in a way that we feel is going to entertain people and always look for the positive side of cricket."

England’s experienced pace duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad were superb throughout the summer, and so was former England skipper Joe Root, but Stokes also had a word of praise for under-fire openers Zak Crawley and Alex Lees. "Opening the batting in England is very hard, even the great Alastair Cook will tell you that, so credit to Leesy and Crawley to put their foot down and be that bit more aggressive.

"We are very lucky to have two of the great seam bowlers of world cricket (Broad and Anderson) in our dressing room, I feel very lucky to be in the dressing room with them. I get called old so I am not sure what you can call Jimmy at the moment being 40 but they just keep turning up day in, day out, they leave everything out there and they are just phenomenal. They are a huge credit to themselves, they are a huge credit to the game and I am sure a lot of young cricketers around the world who want to be fast bowlers will look up to them. 

"You talk about Joe (Root) there, he has to take a lot of credit for how he captained the side for six years. For him to then buy into something that is a different way to how he operated the team. Everyone has bought into it and I am just really grateful that we have a group of lads who have bought into it and seen the bigger picture of what me and Baz are trying to achieve."

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