England's bowlers need to ditch containment for attack

Ben Stokes needs to focus on his line-up's wicket-taking capability

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Stuart Broad and James Anderson pose in the Long Room, England vs New Zealand, 1st Test, Lord's, May 31, 2022

England need to find a new genuinely fast bowler, and if that means dropping one of these two, so be it  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Finally someone in the England set-up has vocalised one of the team's biggest failings. When their new coach, former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, emphasised to his bowlers, "Don't focus too much on economy rates, I want wickets," he was applying Test cricket common sense. To sum up Test cricket simply: a team's batters need to score sensibly in order to give their bowlers as long as possible to take the 20 wickets required for victory.
England's better bowlers often place containment above the more important priority of taking wickets. In plain language, I've never seen a batter - no matter how good - who scores runs that appear in a scorebook while he's sitting in the pavilion having been dismissed. Top-class batters can't be contained out in the middle; eventually they find a way to score at an acceptable rate. That's one reason why they're rated as dangerous players.
As good as they are, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have both been guilty, especially overseas, of focusing too much on the economy rate. That's why Ben Stokes needs to concentrate on their meritorious wicket-taking capability more than listening to quick-response talk of containment.
While Stokes is at it, he should also ignore any of former captain Joe Root's theories on polishing off the opposition tail. Root was not a good captain, and one of the England hierarchy's first jobs is to recalibrate how they deal with dismissing the bottom part of the order.
Another problem for England - which was evident at Lord's - is they have a very good seam attack, well suited to home conditions, but they desperately require workable plans against the better sides when a pitch is flat. This is where it helps to have a balanced attack with a mixture of swing and spin but definitely containing at least one good genuine fast bowler. England have been seriously unlucky with injuries to fast bowlers in the recent past.
What they need from Stokes is captaincy that encourages a thoughtful approach when matters are looking bleak. A team can gain a dubious reputation among opponents and currently England are known as a side that can be forced on the defensive by counterattacking lower-order batters. Stokes has to alter this perception.
I've always believed that if you bestow a sensibly aggressive captain with a team of competitors and they want to play for him, the result will be more victories than losses
This requires courage, and despite the risk of injury, he would be well advised to seek an England bowler with genuine pace. This move would result in splitting Anderson and Broad, which will cause an uproar but it's the right move. England's attack needs to get younger.
Anderson is generally the better bowler, and if fit, he should remain the first-choice player when playing in England. This is an area where England become emotional and consequently fail to select their best combinations.
Almost immediately at Lord's, England felt the pain of requiring a substitute when Jack Leach was ruled out of the game with concussion. Rather than lament the situation, England should look upon it as a lucky break: it's time to move forward rather than look backwards to resolve the lack of good spinners.
If this is a county-cricket problem, it is the concern of others. What the Stokes-McCullum combination has to do is ensure they choose the likely winning players and then provide them with the confidence to think positively. This is a mammoth task in itself and it won't happen overnight but it will require the forthright thinking and talking for which both are renowned.
I've always believed that if you bestow a sensibly aggressive captain with a team of competitors and they want to play for him, the result will be more victories than losses. England have chosen the right captain in Stokes. They've given him a good lieutenant in McCullum, and the pair have made a good start. However, the hard part is continuing to do a good job and this is where England have to show that what happened in the past is unacceptable and won't be tolerated in future.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist