March 9 2015, The Adelaide Oval, an exuberant Bangladeshi side celebrate an emphatic win over a miserable England. Having had his middle stump uprooted, James Anderson slowly trudged off the field as a battered and broken England side shook hands to the tune of deafening silence amongst the normally raucous barmy army.
England were out of the World Cup.
The white flag had long since been waved by the time Bangladesh unsympathetically hammered the final nail into the English coffin. Massive losses inflicted at the hands of New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and lastly Bangladesh had left Eoin Morgan‘s men as the laughing stock of the world. They flew home having never looked even vaguely competitive. English cricket, after a traumatising Ashes series in Australia, had sunk to a new, excruciating low.
New Zealands’ World Cup on the other hand is a much more joyous tale. Brendan McCullums‘ side faced very little, if any resistance to their aggressive and brutal approach. They swept aside opposition with ease leaving them floundering in their wake. Some of the world’s best players were left shell shocked by this revolutionary New Zealand side. Yes, the final did not go their way, but they created a whole new breed of cricket lovers in the process as they turned the heads of their rugby mad nation. They followed the lead of their inspirational captain and what a lead it was. Playing without fear, without apprehension and even without mercy, they came within a hurdle of World Cup glory.
When New Zealand arrived on English shores, there was no doubting how they were going to tackle the challenge of the Three Lions, as whispers of revolution filled the air and the winds of change blew silently around some of cricket’s most traditional backdrops.
What was unknown however, was how the home side were going to respond to this do or die mentality. Would they adapt and fight blazing fire with their own blaze, or would they, as everyone expected, stick to the good ol’ fashioned ways and fight fire with tedious tradition, which would undoubtedly leave the English with little more than a sunburn.
After an enthralling test series which ended all square, the World Cup finalists were due to take on the World Cup flops, in what was predicted to be an ill fated series for England’s finest.
They knew what would be required of them, it was obvious for all to see. They would have to dust themselves off, shake off the ghosts of that dreadful World Cup campaign, and challenge McCullum and his men.
If they allowed themselves to be bullied, as many were expecting to be the case, they would simply be battered straight off the park before they could even yelp a bar of God save the Queen. They had revolutionaries on their doorstep, and they had to answer them.
Having lost the wicket of débutante Jason Roy off the first ball of the series, the preachers of doom swarmed round, with smug faces drenched in “I told you so” as the scars of World Cup-gate resurfaced.
Step up The Edgbaston pitch: the kind of pitch that haunts bowlers and their families for generations, after they spend their ten overs being ripped apart by happy go lucky batsmen. England would have been counting their plentiful lucky stars when they were put into bat by McCullum, as they smashed their way to a record breaking 408, after a calculated ton from Joe Root and a blistering century from Jos Buttler saw the Black Cap bowlers blown away.
New Zealand stuttered to 198 all out, to fall to a brutal 210 run loss. England had fought fire with fire, and they had won. The aforementioned doom preachers squirmed uncomfortably in their seats as they realised the revolution had caught.
In the second One Day International (ODI) New Zealand scampered along to a mammoth 398. A delightful 93 from run robot Kane Williamson and a rapid century from in form Ross Taylor carried them through. In days gone by, an England side would have turned frighteningly pale at the sight of such a target, and waved a white flag within the first ten overs of their chase, but not this England side.
England threw caution to the wind as they set out in hot pursuit of their target, flailing the bowling to all corners. It was only after falling foul of the obscenely complicated Duckworth and Lewis system that they failed by a nerve shattering 13 runs. 763 runs had been plundered in a single day, as songs of revolution echoed through some of cricket’s most hallowed halls.
The third ODI was rather a dreary affair in comparison to the second. England batted first and looked set for another titanic total, but faltered at the back end and fell to a meagre 303. Normally a more than defendable score, but not in these times, not in the throws of revolution. New Zealand were comfortable in their chase, as they made light work of the English effort.
Game four of the series was not one to be outshone by everything that had gone before it. New Zealand clobbered their way to a 7 run per over 350 to set themselves up for a possible series clinching win. Again undaunted by the mammoth task before them, England’s new crew of motley men set out at a never ceasing, lightning pace. Brendan McCullum’s worried expression never fell from his face as the ruthless Three Lions romped home with a whopping 36 balls to spare, after centuries from skipper Eoin Morgan and the metronomical Joe Root.
Four games into the five match series, batsmen have clubbed an astonishing 2676 runs at an average of 669 runs per game. Destitute bowlers have had no answer to the boldness the batsmen have shown and have spent their days chasing leather throughout the series. Such statistics simply boggle the mind. One has to ask, who would be foolhardy enough to choose to be a bowler in such times?
These are the days of 300 being well below par, of a batsman being left disappointed by a strike rate of 100 or less and of soaring economy rates.
Now finally, Brendan McCullum has found in England an opponent that is determined to match, and perhaps even better his exploits. Through a lack of choice, this England side have awoken from their World Cup hangover and taken the fight straight back to McCullum and his men, which is undoubtedly exactly what McCullum wanted.
Having dragged his own New Zealand side out the trenches of inconsistencies, a team that was always there and there abouts, to within a whisker of world domination, McCullum’s revolution is becoming standard as the world, having resisted change, is starting to follow suit. If even England have joined in and broken free from the chains of tradition, then McCullum can be confident his revolution is here to stay.
As much as England fans are loving this new era of no holds barred cricket, they are without a doubt lamenting the sheer disappointment that was England’s failure of a World Cup campaign. Only four months later, the English are playing the kind of cricket that could have carried them all the way home in that World Cup. They had seen the potential benefits of McCullum’s revolution from a distance, and were then obliterated by it themselves, but still failed to adapt, which in the end caused their downfall.
Now the adaption has come, they have surrendered themselves to change and the fruits are there for all to see. Massive, ripe fruits too as English cricket ushers in a new era. The sight of Alex Hales punishing bowlers with unearthly ease, the consistency of rock Joe Root, and the return to form of under fire captain Eoin Morgan was but a fantastical whimsy for England fans only a few months ago having witnessed one of the darkest times in English cricketing history, but now, sit bewitched by their newly reborn heroes as they hammer their way to remarkable victories. Yes the approach might be considered risky by the conservative collar and tie traditionalists, but history only ever remembers the risk takers.
Having been forced into a corner by claims of mediocrity and spinelessness, England bit back at New Zealand and bit back hard. The treasury of confidence they will have garnered means there simply is no turning back now. They have proven they can go toe to toe with one of, if not the most belligerent side in the game, and hearts will be laden with expectation for years to come over the potential of England’s limited overs cricket.
All of this astounding change, the amazement of an aggressive England, the tormenting and torture of bowlers, can be traced back to one man. Without having ever planned it, Brendan McCullum may just have saved English cricket too.