The last time we saw England’s cricketers, in last month’s world Twenty20 final, they were literally and metaphorically on the floor. In front of a global audience of billions, the trophy had just been ripped from their grasp by West Indian batsman Carlos Brathwaite, who smashed four successive sixes off Ben Stokes’s final over, leaving the England team shell-shocked and the 24-year-old Durham all-rounder on his knees and in tears.
So, with a summer of cricket dawning, how do you recover from the nightmare of an agonising defeat like that? “This England team, and Ben Stokes in particular, are a resilient bunch,” assures former England cricket captain and Sky Sports commentator Nasser Hussain. “Ben is better equipped than most to deal with what happened to him. He’s mentally tough and thrives on being at the heart of the action. Knowing the sort of guy he is, he’ll have already moved on and will be a better player for having experienced something like that.”
Stokes (below) may even believe that – he’s not a player short of self-belief. And his aggressive style defines his teammates’ new approach in all forms of the game, including the Tests, which start this week.
Hussain believes England’s swashbuckling approach to limited-overs cricket – which began with last year’s one-day series against New Zealand – has had a positive effect. “England’s Test side are very exciting to watch now. They play a much more attacking brand of cricket, as Stokes showed against South Africa in Cape Town at the start of the year, scoring the fastest-ever 250 in a Test match. The days of just blocking defensively and being 250–4 at the end of a day’s play have gone, so we can expect more fireworks this summer.”
That said, it’s not quite as straightforward as expecting England’s Twenty20 cricketers simply to reproduce their big-hitting style in the Test side. “In Test match cricket, the new ball moves about a lot more, so you have to learn to keep the ball out,” explains Hussain. “There’s no point in having all the shots if you keep getting out in the first half-hour.”
One England player whose style is equally at home in the long and short formats of the game is Yorkshire’s Joe Root (below). “I rate him as the most complete England batsman of all time,” says Hussain. “He really is that good. Whether it’s Twenty20, 50 overs or a Test match, his consistency is breathtaking. He’s not an explosive big hitter but a run machine, who does it with touch, wrists and nouse. And with a smile on his face.”
While England’s Test line-up virtually picks itself, Hussain predicts the emergence of a new star in 25-year-old Nottinghamshire fast bowler Jake Ball. “He’s an exciting prospect who’s made a great start to the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him named in the squad because he’s got all the attributes to become a terrific seam bowler.”
Hussain makes England clear favourites to win both series this summer. “Sri Lanka and Pakistan are similar, in that they both have a decent fast-bowling attack, but a flimsy batting line-up that looks vulnerable to the sideways movement and extra bounce that English conditions offer the bowler. Sri Lanka are also going through a transitional period, having lost the greats of Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Malinga.
“That said, they still have Suranga Lakmal, who’s a very potent and dangerous fast bowler. Both Sri Lanka and Pakistan are feisty sides and their bowlers could give us some problems, but I can’t see any other outcome than England winning both series.”
And if it comes to another do-or-die final over? “Oh you can expect Stokes to put his hand up again,” laughs Hussain. “And this time, I’d back him to nail it.”
The First Test: England v Sri Lanka begins today (Thursday 19th May) at 10am on Sky Sports 2