The word on the street is that England are worth watching again. The team appears eager to entertain. Those who hold it dear are excited. Many more are taking notice. In the pavilion at Lord's on Tuesday morning, MCC played Pharrell Williams' pop song "Happy" to 700 dancing schoolchildren brought there by the club in its joint initiative with Chance to Shine. It was a fabulous morning. Last night at Trent Bridge the ecstatic crowd wrote new words for old songs that celebrated the names of Eoin Morgan's record run-chasers and sang them loud enough for Robin and Maid Marian to have got the gist in Sherwood Forest
Winning is dependant on attitude and approach, almost as much as on talent. Cricket requires courage, character, expression, intelligence and skill. The first three of these are up for grabs. The right road has clearly been taken but why, ask the same folk on the street, has it taken so long?
The first thing we were taught as kids was the forward defensive. We were told to take a big stride to the pitch of the ball and and follow it with a straight bat. It was boring and it was non-negotiable. When this was achieved, the coaches would evolve the process with advice about the position of the head, a bent front knee and "soft hands" that allowed the ball to come to you, rather than vice versa. The foundation of batsmanship was dependent on the precision and completion of these movements and positions.
The bowlers among us were told that line and length was the zeitgeist, and had been since god was a boy. But "I want to swing it sir", was a plea greeted with derision. Fingerspin was okay, if applied with the template of accuracy at its core. A lad in the next-door net to me had a crack at a legbreak and it landed on the bonce of the lad in our net. He was removed from the session and told to work at his fielding "over there". In 17 years of county cricket at 1st and 2nd XI levels I faced three legspinners. Ian Salisbury, the Englishman, managed pretty well, given the odds against him. The others were Anil Kumble and Mushtaq Ahmed.
"Pummelled into submission, you became a county cricketer. Only on the sabbath could you emerge from subjugation and express yourself in the Sunday League. On Monday, it was back to a more orthodox church"
Coaching was accessed from books. It could be learnt and given by anybody who bothered to study those books. For us children of the '60s, the formatted operation of cricket movement and impetus was a thing that emerged from black and white television and from professionals, who earned a bob from passing on their wisdom. School teachers followed the templates. Occasionally there were some effervescent chaps - probably out of university at the whim of an enlightened headmaster - who encouraged you to give it a whack. But they ran house teams or the 3rd XI. If you were serious about cricket, you had to play a forward defensive and bowl a maiden over.
When we started in county cricket, the standards were clear. Move your feet, bat time, and never give your wicket away; bowl straight and full; walk in when fielding. The youngsters were segregated to changing rooms that were hidden in the bowels of most pavilions. Entrance to daylight and specifically to the 1st XI changing room might be granted after a knock at the door. As 12th man you ran baths for the senior players at the end of the day, fetched their drinks and pies, and bowled at them in the nets - pretty much in that order of importance. Like Victorian children, you could be seen but not heard.
Thus, pummelled into submission, you became a county cricketer. Only on the sabbath, a day of rest for most, could you emerge from subjugation and express yourself. Youth was often given a run in the Sunday League, or the John Player League as it was known - after Rothmans missed their moment to capitalise on an idea that spawned the shortest form of the game - and it was the battle ground of irreverence. Here, sweeps, slogs and slower balls held the same space as straight lines. Sunday was the land of the free. Then, come Monday morning, it was back to a more orthodox church.
Up north, the bowlers - in fact most old pros, come to think of it - used to say that public school-educated batsmen played with their "feet in a pisspot". This meant that their technique was careless and based more on stand-and-deliver strokeplay than an organised and rehearsed method. It was a metaphor for different and colliding worlds manifested by private school and state education; country house hosts and mining communities; north and south; Brian Close and Colin Cowdrey.
Until 1962, the end of the Gentlemen-and-Player age, amateurs changed in different dressing rooms to professionals. After 1962, these rooms were divided into young and old, or good and no good yet. English cricket was long challenged by the class divide, and by the conditions and system in which it was played.
The legacy of this has hung around to this day. The smell of a class divide is occasionally pungent but relates more generally to have and have-not; first division and second division; Test ground and non-Test ground; England contract or no England contract. Yes, techniques are scrutinised by over-eager coaches and it remains unsatisfactory that a county contract is the only way ahead for aspiring talent. That talent then clings to its lifestyle and reaches out for a benefit-year payday 15 or so years after its baptism.
The system lives as it has done for as long as anyone who is relevant can remember. It sort of works, within its own bubble, but then, on closer examination, it doesn't really work at all. Eighteen counties, each with two teams, contest three competitions of varying distances and styles. Not that elevation to England colours much alters the workload. The national team is asked to play a ridiculous amount of cricket and, unsurprisingly, look jaded at times when they clearly want more from themselves but cannot find it. Witness Jos Buttler's dropped catch on Sunday at the Ageas Bowl. Buttler and Joe Root need a break. But neither the management, nor television, which pays the wages, or the public who pay at the gate, can justify it. Again and again, the little picture overtakes the big picture.
All of this is by way of context. The new faces at the ECB are just the job and already have indicated evolutionary thinking. Ideally they would go with revolution but the tail wags the dog and, thus, they must tread carefully.
Their first job is to get the game smiling again: to make friends and to influence people. The team is doing this with bells on. The ECB and its people are working on it.
The two Test matches against New Zealand alerted even the darkest cynics, and then, ten days ago, England passed 400 against McCullum's marauding men at Edgbaston. Not since the glorious Ashes summer of 2005 has cricket been so interesting to people who aren't interested. They simply cannot believe that the game could be played at such breakneck speed and with such gay abandon.
"We must tell people on the street that there is still a way to go. But at least we might enjoy the journey, for at last the players are expressing themselves without condition"
Folk who never asked before now want to know why some dotty algorithm called Duckworth-Lewis buggers up England's chances. And they want to know why none of this had ever appealed to them previously but now troubles them so. A fellow who had not heard of Buttler a month ago asked when he was playing next. His wife, apparently, has a crush on Jos and, she added, her remaining hots are for Joe.
Without suggesting that England are on course to win back the Ashes, we can say that a corner has been turned. Perhaps it was the sheer humiliation of the World Cup performance. Perhaps it is the new broom at the ECB. Possibly, New Zealand have inspired their opponents. Maybe Paul Farbrace, the interim coach, has said attack or be damned. More likely, he and the two captains, Eoin Morgan and Alastair Cook, have decided that the players must spread their wings and fly, or what is the point of it all.
What we know is that they have an audience to win back and that they have started well. England are not the world's most gifted team but there are many attributes that go into winning cricket matches and one of them is the mindset with which you play.
For all the reasons above, English cricketers of the past 50 years have been shackled. Not Ted Dexter, John Snow. Ian Botham, David Gower, Darren Gough or Andrew Flintoff. Not the captains Mike Brearley or Michael Vaughan either. But most of the rest. Suddenly the shackles have been thrown off. The past may as well not exist. This England team appears to play with a genuine freedom of spirit.
The greatest fear is that of failure. Fearlessness must be the byword of the moment and it is a gem. Alongside the remarkable Root, Buttler is its talisman. Fatigue may have crept into his wicketkeeping but adventure overrules everything when a bat is in his hand. The selectors deserve credit for their choices. The players deserve credit for their effort to reward them. It is one thing to lose a cricket match. Quite another to do so without giving yourself the best chance to win it. Now we must tell the people on the street that there is still a way to go. But we can add that the journey will be worth watching because, at last, the players are expressing themselves without condition. Conclusive proof was on show in Nottingham last night.