‘Benball’ pays off again for England as they dominate New Zealand on day one | Cricket News

Enough of this Bazball stuff. It’s Benball that England are playing.

Baz (head coach Brendon McCullum) may have brought the fun but captain Ben Stokes has brought the ferocious desire for victories. The skipper is the central figure in this great Test turnaround.

It is because of the mindset he has imparted on his side that England are able to pound 325 inside 59 overs on day one of a Test. It is because of his bold declaration, and then his bowler’s accuracy, that they now find themselves firmly in control of that Test with New Zealand flailing on 37-3 in reply in the series opener.

When Stokes called his side in after just 58.2 overs at Mount Maunganui, he had just initiated the second-earliest first-innings declaration in Test history. It may have come as a surprise to some but, in truth, it was just so Ben Stokes. Aggressive but also astute.

England's Ollie Robinson celebrates the wicket of New Zealand's Tom Latham at Bay Oval (Associated Press)
Ollie Robinson celebrates the wicket of Tom Latham on the first evening at Bay Oval

On a pitch that looks flat against a ball that isn’t doing too much, when is the worst time to bat? Under the lights. And that’s exactly the fate New Zealand were given.

It proved a shrewd call from Stokes with the Black Caps losing their best player, Kane Williamson, plus Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls in a challenging 18-over onslaught from James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad. It would have been four had Zak Crawley not dropped Devon Conway in the slip cordon.

England batter Harry Brook said: “The best time to bowl is under these lights, when you can extract the most amount of swing and seam, so why not try and expose their top order to that? It’s the hardest time to bat and we’ve got three of the best bowlers to ever play the game. It absolutely paid off.”

Stokes’ declaration could have backfired. New Zealand could have come through the evening unscathed and built a platform to progress in the daylight on day two. But as so often has been the case since Stokes succeeded Joe Root as England Test captain, his call looks to have been correct.

England have not played traditional Test cricket under Stokes but they have played winning Test cricket. Just 76.2 overs into this game and they are a in strong spot to make it 10 victories from 11.

Traditionalists may have been chuntering to themselves as England experienced a wobble of 3-37 from 117-1 and then lost 4-27 from 298-5 prior to the declaration.

Purists may have grumbled when Ollie Pope perished on the drive, Joe Root fell to a reverse scoop and Stokes slapped a short ball to midwicket.

Ben Duckett (Associated Press)
Ben Duckett struck 84 from 68 balls on the opening day at Bay Oval, hitting 14 fours

But it feels churlish to criticise that when the ambition to attack is precisely why England are now so good at Test cricket. While that mantra cost Pope, Root and Stokes their wickets, it also propelled the tourists from potentially dicey positions to ones of dominance.

Ben Duckett could have sat in after opening partner Crawley was worked over – Crawley dropped on nought and bowled off a no-ball on three before nicking off four to end a torturous 14-ball innings – but he didn’t. He attacked, hit a 36-ball fifty and 84 from 68. Brook could have sat in after England found themselves 154-4 but he didn’t. He attacked, hit a 43-ball fifty and 89 from 81.

Both Duckett and Brook were on course to break Gilbert Jessop’s England-record 76-ball Test century, set in 1902. They didn’t on this occasion but it only appears a matter of time before someone gallops past Gilbert. Jessop has never had as much airtime as he has over the past few months with Brook, Duckett, Crawley and Jonny Bairstow coming close to eclipsing his 121-year-old record.

In isolation the shots don’t look great, but the fact England managed to score 320-odd runs allowed them to bowl 18 overs at New Zealand. If New Zealand’s over rate was better, they’d have had 30-odd overs at them and could have taken even bigger strides to push on.

Sir Alastair Cook. discussing England’s batting on BT Sport

There will be days when it doesn’t work for England – 165 and 149 all out against South Africa at Lord’s in August in what remains their only defeat under Baz and Ben – but there have been many days when it has worked. There will be many more.

It is a philosophy that has seen them become the first team to score 500 on the opening day of a Test match, the first to score at over six an over in both innings of a Test, the first to sweep Pakistan 3-0 away in a series away from home.

Records, records and more records. Wins, wins and more wins.

Jessop’s record remains intact for now but one held by Glenn McGrath and the late Shane Warne could be toppled on Friday.

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Speaking before the first Test, England coach Brendon says did not realise how good Ben Stokes would be as captain

That great Australian duo snared a world-leading 1,001 wickets combined in Tests they played together.

Anderson and Broad are just three away from trumping that after Anderson’s twin strikes of Williamson and Nicholls on Thursday took the England duo to 999.

It is down to Anderson and Broad’s enduring skill that they have taken that many in tandem but in large part down to Stokes’ daring declaration that Anderson was able to secure the latest two.

Bold with the bat. Bold with the ball. Bold while declaring. This is Benball.

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