New Zealand v England: Ben Stokes’ Team Invest In ‘Bank Of Baz’



New Zealand v England: Ben Stokes' team invest in 'Bank of Baz'

Brendon McCullum seemingly knows so many people in New Zealand that the England players have taken to calling their coach “the president”.

McCullum, a consummate Kiwi, has acted as tour guide in a long build-up to the two-Test series that gets under way in Mount Maunganui on Thursday.

The focus has been on relaxation, bonding and enjoying the country they are in – something particularly easy to do in New Zealand.

James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been around long enough to have been on former coach Andy Flower’s pre-Ashes bootcamp in Bavaria. If McCullum and captain Ben Stokes took England to that part of Germany, it would probably be for Oktoberfest.

Four days in Queenstown were filled with golf at the luxury Millbrook resort. The England doctor skydived out of a plane and two members of the media team screamed their way through a canyon swing.

Some cricket broke out in Hamilton, albeit if last week’s warm-up game was cut from four days to two. England feel tour matches lose their lustre after a couple of days and, on that evidence, they were right, though time will tell if the tourists should have prepared for a day-night Test by spending more time batting under lights.

The journey from Hamilton to Mount Maunganui took in a barbecue at McCullum’s house. One wondered if the time in Hamilton was actually planned to tie in with the horse McCullum part owns, Defibrillate, running at Te Rapa racecourse. It finished fourth in a Group One race, watched by Stokes and Jack Leach.

If all this sounds trivial, or an exclusive lads holiday, it doesn’t take a deep dive to see it is all part of England’s on-field philosophy of freedom, fearlessness and innovation.

‘Bazball’ might be the label given to the style of play, but it might be more accurate to think of England’s ethos as The Bank of Baz. If you invest in the off-field fun, work hard in training and believe in the brand of cricket, you will be rewarded with memories, friendships and maybe even winning some Test matches.

“The results will hopefully follow,” said McCullum. “You can’t guarantee that but what you can do is ensure you put some money in the bank when it comes to experiences and relationships.

“It’s not always going to be rosy, but the one thing you can do is keep trying to bring that positive attitude, belief and look after one another.”

A by-product of the McCullum-Stokes environment being so attractive is that it might make shunning Test cricket in favour of a spot in a T20 franchise league less appealing, a theory brought into focus by New Zealand left-armer Trent Boult’s absence from this series, albeit if his Black Caps central contract would likely be dwarfed by its England equivalent.

“That is the thinking,” said McCullum. “There are so many options these days, that you’ve got to make Test cricket enjoyable not just on the field, but off the field too.

“You have to try to get these guys to know when they board the plane or jump into the car to join up with the team they’re going to have a great time.

“I always felt when playing that everything was based around the cricket and sometimes you forgot to enjoy yourself. It’s not until the back end of your career you go ‘aw, I can actually have a good time now’.”

A consequence of England enjoying their time away from cricket is a willingness to work hard in the nets. Most training sessions are optional these days, but the three days spent practising in Mount Maunganui before the tour game in Hamilton are said to have been the most intense since McCullum took over.

“When you watch the guys train, it’s on,” said Broad. “It’s full intensity, which is easier to do when you’ve had a bit of time away.

“When you have a habit of just training every day, then playing, it’s sometimes hard to lift your intensity to where it needs to be. That is certainly part of the style – we enjoy being away from the ground but, when you’re there, you’re fully invested.”

Broad makes his return to the England XI at the first opportunity after missing the 3-0 series win in Pakistan in December.

Though Anderson and Ollie Robinson have complained about the day-night conditions – some rare grumbling in this era – England have kept things simple when they might have previously gone into a pink-ball panic.

In the day-nighter against India in Ahmedabad in 2021 they picked one spinner on a raging turner. In the last Ashes in Australia they didn’t choose a spinner and Robinson ended up bowling off-breaks.

This time they have stuck to their template of three seamers and the left-arm tweak of Leach. If that sounds like the obvious thing to do, it is, but not over-thinking is a skill in itself. Just ask Australia, who got themselves into a tizz over the pitch for last week’s first Test in India, then left out Travis Head, the number-four ranked batter in the world, and were bowled out for 177 and 91.

After nine wins in their previous 10 matches, this series in New Zealand is an outlier in England’s schedule, two matches that are not part of the World Test Championship. The next time they get together will be to play Ireland in June, though that game could be affected by players returning late from the Indian Premier League, the final of which is only a few days beforehand.

What follows are 10 Tests that could secure the legacy of the McCullum-Stokes era. A home Ashes and a five-match series in India, albeit six months apart because of a quirk of the calendar, are like facing Test cricket’s two end-of-level bosses back-to-back.

England will not admit to thinking about those challenges yet, but what happens in New Zealand helps shape their chances of success.

On the field, it is an opportunity to groove their swashbuckling style and possibly push the boundaries even further. Off the field, their unit tightens to be in the best place to face anything thrown their way. It just so happens that they are having a lot of fun as they do it.

“You have one crack at life, why would you not want to enjoy it?” said McCullum.

It’s hard to argue.

England are fully investing in The Bank of Baz. The pay-off could be spectacular.

Source – BBC News




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