The statistics are becoming dizzying now.
Ten wins in 11 Tests. Six victories in a row. The last four coming where England have traditionally struggled on flat overseas pitches. Now the chance in their final red-ball assignment of the winter to make it seven straight for the first time in almost 20 years.
Not only that but there is evidence here, with the Basin Reserve sold out for the first three days of the second Test, that England’s wider mission of preserving Test cricket’s future by making it the most exciting form of the game is beginning to pay dividends.
No wonder Ben Stokes said England will leave New Zealand on a high whatever happens in the next five days. The captain will seek his fifth victory against the outgoing world Test champions in five matches since he joined forces with Brendon McCullum at the start of last summer knowing his team have a psychological hold over their opponents.
‘We’re very clear what we’re going to do,’ said Stokes when asked if England are now getting into teams’ heads with their pyrotechnics. ‘So it’s good to know those playing against us are having to react to that. When that’s the case you’re winning in that moment.’
Ben Stokes has made it clear that he wants his side to continue to take the positive approach
This approach paid off in the first Test as England picked up a comprehensive victory
England, of course, know all about being on the wrong side of that fence, usually when they travel to Australia. ‘We have been there when you’re scratching your head and you need to keep on changing your plans because things haven’t worked,’ said Stokes.
‘But the one thing we have at the moment is clarity in the way we operate. Yes, we do occasionally change our plans, but we know exactly the reason why we’re doing it as opposed to thinking ‘oh, I hope this works’. I certainly prefer teams reacting to us rather than the other way round.’
Wellington has played a significant part in recent English cricket history – good, bad and tragic. It was here at this historic Basin Reserve ground where England were playing 21 years ago when news came through of the death of Ben Hollioake in a car crash in Australia.
It was here, in 2008, that England first paired a young Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and saw the beginnings of a partnership that has seen them take 1,009 Test wickets together and counting.
It was here, across the capital at the ‘Cake Tin,’ where they suffered what proved a watershed thrashing in the 2015 World Cup by McCullum’s New Zealand that was to prove the inspiration for Eoin Morgan’s revolution of English white-ball cricket.
And it was here that a young Ben Stokes spent the last two years of his New Zealand childhood before his family emigrated to Cumbria to follow his father’s rugby league career.
‘I remember training here as a kid,’ said Stokes, who moved to England when he was 12. ‘Back then I was sharing my time between rugby and cricket. It’s the first time I’ve been back to the Basin properly since I left and it’s a beautiful ground.
‘It’s going to be full and I just hope it’s as good an atmosphere as it was down in Mount Maunganui. We want people to come down to a Test match and have a good time.’
All Stokes has to do now is settle on the side he wants to take to the Basin with him. Sportsmail revealed yesterday England were considering resting up to two of their seam bowlers because of the aches and pains suffered in the stunning first Test victory.
Ollie Robinson could be given a rest after looking stiff in training after the first Test
Matthew Potts would be the obvious replacement for Robinson if he misses out
Olly Stone may also be given an opportunity if James Anderson or Stuart Broad are rested
Ollie Robinson, who suffered shin and calf soreness towards the end in Mount Maunganui, looked very stiff when he bowled in practice here and appears the most likely to miss out, with Matthew Potts standing by to replace him.
And if one or other of the big two in Broad and Anderson also join him on the sidelines then England will give another chance to Olly Stone to prove he can join Mark Wood and Jofra Archer as seam bowling options with extra pace for this summer’s Ashes.
The only thing Stokes would confirm is that Jack Leach will definitely play even though Wellington has proved a barren venue for spin, not least because of the wind that can often whip across a ground that is basically one big roundabout.
‘The beauty of the squad at the moment is if someone doesn’t feel they’re quite up to performing again after a quick turnaround we’ll still be able to choose our best team because I will be picking the XI who are best able to play,’ said Stokes.
New Zealand may have been beaten in the first Test but their defeat was put into context by Blair Tickner, whose family home in Hawke’s Bay was destroyed by Cyclone Gabrielle which hit the north island just before the series started.
Blair Tickner (pictured) has been helping with the recovery effort following Cyclone Gabrielle
Tickner, along with team-mate Will Young, returned home between Tests to help with the recovery effort after one of New Zealand’s worst natural disasters.
‘We have been helping out wherever we can,’ said an emotional Tickner, who made his Test debut against a backdrop of turmoil back home. ‘I grew up there as a kid and it’s just crazy to see what happened. It’s hard to talk about really.
‘You dream about your Test debut and expect your family and friends to be there. Then the cyclone hit and luckily my dad saw my first Test wicket but then went on a seven-hour drive back home to help everyone. Cricket is the only bright light at the moment.’
Remarkably, the Bay of Plenty escaped the worst of the cyclone and cricket’s show was able to go ahead. Now it can again shine brightly for the people of New Zealand through the efforts of both teams.
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