LV= Insurance Test Series Review: England v New Zealand

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The first LV= Insurance Test Series of the summer didn't disappoint. Have a read through Wisden's review of England v New Zealand below...

Baz-Ball is here, and it's beautiful

Written by Wisden

Day one of the Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes era arrived with a nervous crackle of energy around Lord’s. The duo, counting as two of the most aggressive cricketers the sport has known, promised to mould a team in their image, to reinvigorate the Test game, and to bring a whole new region of supporters with them. Whether they could walk the walk was another question.


The first two days of the series played out like England were a team still trying to get to grips with what this new approach meant. Jack Leach dove headfirst into a boundary board, McCullum-style, and sustained a concussion that would rule him out of the remainder the LV= Insurance Test Match. The metaphor couldn’t be clearer; England would throw themselves at everything, and there might well be a few spills along the way.


Stokes rolled out all the slips and all the tricks to bundle out New Zealand for 132, only to see England slump to 141 all out themselves. When Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell - the tourists’ undoubted stars of the series - put on nearly 200 in the reply, it seemed the story would be one of England attacking gamely and giving New Zealand a scare, but for the Black Caps’ undoubted class and status as World Test Championship winners to win out.


Even when Stuart Broad unfurled one of those spells with the second new ball on the third morning - knees up, legs pumping, hijinks afoot - to leave England needing 277 to win, it felt like a tough ask. This was still a batting line-up that had struggled in the previous 12 months. England needed nearly double their first innings total. McCullum’s troops hadn’t yet taught their fans to believe.

That third day contained arguably the two most pivotal moments of the series, and both involved Stokes, leading from the front, for good or for bad. With a solitary run to his name, and England 76-4, he charged down and chopped Colin de Grandhomme onto his stumps. It felt like the game, right there. Then replays showed New Zealand’s all-rounder had overstepped, and Stokes and England had another life.


Soon after, Stokes pumped Ajaz Patel’s only two overs of the series for 22 runs, smashing a spinner who had taken 14 wickets in his most recent Test not just out of the attack, but out of the side. England would milk his replacement, Michael Bracewell, freely in the last two LV= Insurance Test Matches.


When Stokes eventually did depart, the game was still not yet won. But with Joe Root in, England are never without hope. He took over, scoring 34 off 89 prior to Stokes’ wicket and 84 off 76 after it. He whirred freely, running New Zealand ragged alongside Ben Foakes’ solid innings, and victory was completed not just before the second new ball was available, but also just inside the cut-off for spectators on day four to get a refund. England had confirmed themselves crowd-pleasers, in every sense.


Free tickets and free-flowing fun would be the themes of the final two LV= Insurance Test Matches as well. In the second, New Zealand made 550-odd in the first innings, which should have been plenty, and even after Root, Stokes and Ollie Pope dragged England near to parity - including an audacious reverse-scoop from Root for six off Tim Southee - when New Zealand set the hosts just under 300 to win in just over two sessions, and then reduced them to 96-4, that really should have been that. And then, at tea, with 160 needed to win after tea, Jonny Bairstow had a ham and cheese toastie and a cup of coffee and heeded Stokes’ advice: “Don’t think about hitting it down. Hit it into the stands.”


Bairstow smashed 93 runs off 44 balls, and in just under an hour of carnage, the game was as good as done. The onlookers, packed into Trent Bridge after Nottinghamshire CCC chose to allow free entry for the climax, could barely believe what they’d seen. They had better get used to it.


By Headingley, the extraordinary had become commonplace, souls rejuvenated anywhere you looked. Jack Leach claimed his first home Test five-for. Trent Boult bowled one of the great new-ball spells, and ended up with a century conceded next to his name. Stokes hit his third ball for six, his 13th to mid-on, and had still somehow managed to change the complexion of the context. Jamie Overton, on debut, and Bairstow crashed England’s record seventh-wicket stand to give England a lead, despite them having been 55-6 in response to more than 300. Jack Leach claimed his second home Test five-for. England still needed nearly 300, and Stokes wanted to get it done in the half a day left on day four. Had England had an extra hour, they would have done. Another set of uncharged attendees received a treat on the last day. Root had 65 by the time Bairstow scored his first run, and was almost overtaken by time England completed victory.


A 3-0 whitewash had been achieved in the LV= Insurance Test series, but this was about far more than just the result. England had embodied Baz-Ball in excelsis, a team determined to push the boundaries of what’s possible.