Bairstow embodied the brave New England era of Stokes and McCullum

Jonny Bairstow has incarnated the era of Stokes and McCullum's brave New England

Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes celebrate an exceptional win at Trent Bridge (Image: Getty)

England may have won the second Test against New Zealand to win the series, but that will seem almost irrelevant in a match that has defied the gravity of cricket.

From Jonny Bairstow’s 77-ball 100s last afternoon to the free entry that ensured a full house on an epic final day at Trent Bridge, the old rules of Test cricket have been torn and thrown apart.

Under this orthodoxy, teams that field 553 in their first innings, as New Zealand did, should not lose. Neither should teams be chasing 299 in 72 overs on a pitch on the final day like England did (they actually did it in 50), their task enhanced by a rarity Failure by Joe Root.

But under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, supporters of an ultra-aggressive approach to the sport, this team has found faith in themselves and in playing a high-octane brand of cricket that will deliver thrills as well as treats. So buckle up for a ride that’s likely to be as exciting as it is bumpy.

This is how Eoin Morgan led England’s white ball teams to play cricket with notable success over the past six years, including winning a World Cup.

It remains to be seen whether the philosophy and methods can simply be transferred to the Red team. Test cricket is more complex and requires consistency across a wide range of conditions to take you to the top.

Undoubtedly, McCullum is the common denominator; Morgan was heavily influenced by him when the pair played together for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League.

Talk of a bold new approach is one thing, but it was fleshed out by Bairstow at Trent Bridge on Tuesday. For many in attendance, some of whom may be watching Test cricket for the first time, nothing quite compares to the blitzkrieg they experienced immediately after tea. It was brutal and exhilarating, the chilling one-sidedness not earning the New Zealand bowlers a shred of sympathy from an insane crowd.

There have been devastating strikes in tests before, but certainly none that crushed opponents, still with a good chance of winning itself, so brutally and with such speed. Going from hopeful to helpless so quickly was terrifying.

Jonny Bairstow has incarnated the era of Stokes and McCullum's brave New England

Bairstow smashes another six during his sensational century against New Zealand (Image: Getty)

To a certain extent it was also self-inflicted. England were down four wickets and still needing 160 from 38 overs when New Zealand turned to their version of bodyline, which required Matt Henry and Trent Boult Bairstow and captain Ben Stokes to pepper with short shots.

Instead of wickets, fours and sixes flowed as Bairstow in particular kept vacating the shorter of the leg-side boundaries.

There have been 59 conceded runs in just four overs which, when it comes to clever schemes, rivals one of Baldrick’s crazier schemes. Worse, it raised Bairstow and Stokes’ dander so much that when New Zealand returned to line-and-length bowling and reintroduced off-spinner Michael Bracewell, the lines for England flowed with unrelenting regularity.

Many will attribute Bairstow’s hard-hitting approach to his prowess at white ball cricket, yet somehow it seems more exciting and illegal when performed in a Test.

More memorable too, and while I don’t have a clear recollection of Bairstow’s T20 and 50-over triumphs, I won’t forget Trent Bridge, and not just for missing a chance by two balls to break Gilbert Jessop’s 120-year-old record batting for the fastest Test century by an England player (76 balls).

Some records fell, such as the highest total runs for a Test, which was 1,675, testament to the superb pitch produced by Trent Bridge groundsman Steve Birks.

Nottinghamshire CCC also judged the mood well by allowing free entry for the last day, although one wonders about future complaints from those paying full price for a more boring matchday.

If the win was a team effort, the grand finale belonged to Bairstow. Since his debut in 2012, he has been scrambled by the Test team, batting in numerous positions between three and seven and getting the wicketkeeper’s gloves, which were handed to him and then taken away.

So you’d think he’d jump at the chance to champion the influence of the new coach and captain.

England v New Zealand – Second LV= Insurance Test Match: Day Five

A packed house cheered England’s victory in Nottingham (Image: Getty)

But when asked, he dampened his enthusiasm by saying former Test captain Joe Root got a bad deal running the side during the Covid pandemic, when bladder life was at its most restrictive.

Such loyalty is typical of Bairstow, but if we rewind a year and recall the debacle at Lord’s, where England under Root made no attempt to chase 273 in 73 overs seeded by New Zealand on the final day, you can see that themselves the ground has shifted.

Since this game was not part of the Test championship and therefore safe, it was something of a scandal when the team made the draw. With such a prospect and after further sluggish performances in the meantime, it can come as no surprise that the captain, coach and team director have all been replaced.

This team seems determined to do things differently and three things Stokes has said confirm that. The first was the utter contempt with which, when he was first appointed captain, he treated the question of whether his England side should become more resilient by learning to play for draws, as Nasser Hussain did at the turn of the millennium. “Play for a draw,” he said, pushing the mere thought out of his presence, “no way.”

The second was the instruction he gave Bairstow on just the final day of the Test, when New Zealand began bowling bouncers after tea: ‘Don’t you dare bat the ball down. Put it in the stands.’ And the third was his promise that his team would “walk into danger instead of backing down from it.”

As far as manifestos go it’s more Dan Dare than MCC Manual and doesn’t make England a full team, at least not yet as they need a better spinner and a 90mph bowler. But their captain and coach recognize that shortcomings can sometimes be overcome by bold, fun cricket and, to the delight of England fans everywhere, that is what they have delivered so far.

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Nate Jones

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