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Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have changed Test cricket, says former England captain Michael Vaughan

Vaughan feels Pat Cummins and Australia will be having “sleepless nights” after England scored 500-plus in just 75 overs on the first day of the Rawalpindi Test against Pakistan

England men's Test coach Brendon McCullum gestures during a nets session; England's skipper Ben Stokes arrives for toss prior to start of first cricket test match between Pakistan and England, in Rawalpindi. (AP)

England red-ball captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum will be remembered as the combination that changed how we play and think about Test match cricket, according to former England skipper Michael Vaughan. Nasser Hussain, another former England captain, said that it was amazing to see what could happen when the team management removes the “fear of failure” from players’ minds. Vaughan even said that Pat Cummins and his Australia team will be having “sleepless nights” after England scored 500-plus in just 75 overs on the first day of the Rawalpindi Test against Pakistan.

“We have to be honest about what England are doing. They are trying to change Test cricket and, eight games in, it is going pretty well. It’s not like they’ve done it once and then struggled for three games. They had one blip but otherwise it’s been consistently excellent,” Vaughan wrote in The Telegraph.

“It is still early days of course, but I expect England to continue this way, and I think we will be talking about this period in years to come. We will look back on it and see Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum being the dual combination that changed Test match cricket: the way it is played, and the way we think about it.

“I’ve not known a captain in my time, watching or playing the game, to have had such an impact on a team. Look at where the England team were before. One win in 17, thrashed in Australia playing cricket completely opposite to this.”

‘First Test team to encourage risk-taking’

Vaughan said that even though the Rawalpindi pitch was flat, England have to be commended for scoring at a fast tempo without resorting to slogs. According to Vaughan, England’s approach had brought risk-taking into Test cricket, as opposed to the risk-averse traditional way of playing the five-day game.

“This was an incredibly flat pitch and an inexperienced Pakistan bowling attack. But generally Pakistan are the best team in the world at bowling on flat wickets, taking the 22 yards out of the equation. England were just too much. It was not reckless, it was good, strong cricket shots,” Vaughan wrote.

“Watch them play these shots. They are what we would have considered risky in my era. They are not risky to them, because they are so conditioned to it from white-ball cricket: paddles, dancing down, reverse sweeps. They are an every-day action these players do. They have trained their brains and bodies to do it again and again. And it’s a sensible way! It sounds mad to say that scoring at close to seven an over isn’t complete bonkers. But these players, with their skillsets – it’s not outrageous. They are brought up to do it.

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“It is all about mindset and language. Kids coming through these days don’t believe that if a bowler is bowling well you can’t score. They don’t respond to the language I grew up with about getting bowlers into their second, third, fourth spells, then capitalising. They think about how you can take them on. This is the first team to take that mindset into Test cricket, and openly encourage what we consider risk-taking. It is what will help the modern player flourish.”

While admitting that it was not possible to replicate a day on a “perfect wicket” on which four batsmen scored Test centuries, Vaughan stated that England’s “juggernaut” was not something opponents would want to run into.

“There will be plenty of older players who will say it’s not possible to do this every time, and of course an example this extreme can’t be replicated every time. This was the perfect wicket and they capitalised. England do need to prove that this is more than just a hot streak, and to do so they will have to adapt, and go up and down the gears, like the great Australian team used to.

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“But people have wondered what will happen each time they take on a new bowling attack, and it keeps going well. In our summer, I reckon the Australians would have been saying “we will have you”. But even Pat Cummins and co will be having sleepless nights now, because this is a juggernaut. It’s not a nice method or mentality to play against at all.”

From fearful to fearless

Hussain said that he was a “fearful” player in his time, but this England team had been able to play like nothing mattered when, in fact, it did matter a lot.

“What has changed is the mindset and the intent. As we’re seeing on a regular basis now, it’s amazing what can happen when the coach and captain remove the fear of failure,” Hussain wrote in Daily Mail.

“It’s the scenario sportsmen dream about. To convince yourself that none of it matters when you know, deep down, that it really does. To treat a role you’ve spent your life working towards as if it’s just another day at the office. To imagine representing your country is like a knockabout in the park.

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“I was a fearful cricketer, focused on survival at all costs. These guys just want to go out and have fun. It’s great to watch.”

First published on: 02-12-2022 at 11:49 IST
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