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Style not stats key to breaking into rejuvenated England team, says Ben Stokes

England captain Ben Stokes celebrates the series win over New Zealand (Mike Egerton/PA).
England captain Ben Stokes celebrates the series win over New Zealand (Mike Egerton/PA).

England captain Ben Stokes has told county cricket’s Test hopefuls to watch and learn from his side’s fearless approach against New Zealand if they want to join the ranks.

Stokes has brought about a remarkable revolution in his first three games as skipper, revitalising a side who had won just one of the last 17 Tests and chalking up a hat-trick of thrilling victories over the format’s reigning world champions.

Stokes has never been one to take a backward step on a cricket field and his partnership with head coach Brendon McCullum, who was also known as one of the most attacking players of his generation, has had a profound effect.

A side once gripped by fear has thrown off the shackles in stunning fashion, batting with an undiluted aggression that has yielded fireworks and showing the same spirit of adventure in the field.

Almost as soon as Jonny Bairstow put the finishing touches to a 3-0 series sweep in fitting fashion – with a six into the Headingley stands – England announced that the same group of players had been picked to face India at Edgbaston on Friday.

That meant an unchanged squad of 14, plus wicketkeeper Sam Billings who replaced Ben Foakes in Leeds as a Covid substitute and stays on as cover.

And Stokes has made it clear that anybody who wants to force their way into the set-up would be judged on their style as well as their statistics.

“I think these last three games should have sent a message to people who aspire to play Test cricket for England over the next two or three years, at least,” he said.

“I’d like to think that people watching know what they have to do to try and bang the door down and get in this team.

“I would say it’s about the manner and the way that you’re going to play, whether that be with a ball or a bat in your hand. It’s not necessarily your stats, or anything like that, it’s the manner that you play which is probably going to be first and foremost in the selectors’ minds.

“What we want to do is build on this. It’s not just about us at the moment. It’s about the future as well and what I think we’ve done over the last three weeks is make people enjoy watching Test cricket again.

Brendon McCullum
Brendon McCullum has enjoyed a memorable first series in charge of England (Mike Egerton/PA).

“If we were on the wrong side of results of these games, if they played out the same way but we’d lost, I would have walked off a very, very happy captain with the way that everybody’s applied themselves and the attitude they’ve given to every single day, every single session, every single hour of these three Test matches.”

Stokes’ words will resonate around the domestic game, and the trickle down may well have started already if Sam Curran’s rapid-fire century for Surrey on Monday is anything to go by.

“I knew that everyone would buy into the new mentality me and Brendon set out, but I didn’t think it would go this well to be honest,” he confessed.

“Coming away with a 3-0 victory over the world Test champions is a great start and something to build on and make sure we keep carrying this mindset forward.”

Joe Root was named as England’s player of the series, having scored 396 runs at an average of 99, but even he might admit that fellow Yorkshireman Jonny Bairstow had a claim on the award.

While Root’s excellence was the continuation of an 18-month hot streak, Bairstow looks reborn.

Settled at number five and given licence to indulge the ball-striking tendencies that have made him a world beater at ODI level, he unleashed two storming centuries at Trent Bridge and Headingley and was on course for another when the victory line came too soon.

“What Jonny has done has been very, very special. Just ‘wow’ is all I can say for how he’s playing at the moment,” offered Stokes.

Jonny Bairstow celebrates England's victory at Headingley
Jonny Bairstow celebrates England’s victory at Headingley (Mike Egerton/PA).

“His role in the white-ball team is very clear, very specific, and he knows exactly what to do every time he steps out to play. Now he’s playing for us like he’s got the colours (one-day kit) on.

“I’ve never heard a bloke get 130-odd off 90 balls like he did at Trent Bridge and then ask his head coach how to go out and play. Baz McCullum basically just said, ‘Go and get your Sudoku book, sit next to me and shut up. Whatever you did last week, go out and do it again’.

“With Jonny it’s just about making sure he knows what he’s in the team to do.”