Ben Stokes 'blessed' by England's bowlers after floodlight strategy pays rich dividends

Fast-paced batting key to victory as New Zealand are left looking for answers

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Last laugh: Ollie Robinson and Ben Stokes enjoy the feeling of victory, New Zealand v England, 1st Test, Mount Maunganui, 4th day, February 19, 2023

Ollie Robinson and Ben Stokes enjoy the feeling of victory  •  Getty Images

Ben Stokes, England's captain, admitted he was "blessed" to be able to call upon a bowling attack led by England's greatest seam pairing, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, after an emphatic 267-run victory in the first Test against New Zealand. However, he added that the positivity of his batting line-up had been instrumental in allowing the bowlers to thrive under the floodlights at Mount Maunganui.
Twice in the Test, on days one and three, England batted at such a high tempo - with Harry Brook, the player of the match, instrumental in both performances - that they were able to cede the stage early in the day's final session and unleash their fast bowlers in the twilight, when the pink Kookaburra ball habitually offers the most assistance.
Anderson and Ollie Robinson were duly to the fore on the first day, reducing New Zealand to 37 for 3 in reply to England's 325 for 9 declared, before Broad took centre stage on day three, ripping out four wickets in his first seven overs as New Zealand closed on 63 for 5. From there, there was no way back into the match, as England wrapped up their tenth victory in 11 Tests inside the first session of day four.
"It was another great performance," Stokes said during the post-match presentation. "We were very clinical with the bat and obviously very clinical with the ball. You look at the bowling attack that we've got, with this pink ball especially under lights, we executed everything as well as we wanted to. When you got the likes of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson in your bowling attack, it's always going to be tough for any opposition with the bat in hand."
Tim Southee, New Zealand's captain, admitted his disappointment after overseeing a first loss to England on home soil since his own Test debut at Napier in 2008, but acknowledged that "strategically, they played it pretty well."
"We were on the receiving end of a couple of night periods that weren't obviously ideal," Southee said. "Broady last night, that spell was pretty impressive, but if we had got through that, we knew there were not a lot of demons out there today, with the nature of the pink ball, so I think it's credit to the way they played it."
Stokes acknowledged that that had been England's battle-plan after losing the toss and being asked to bat first, even though it took another remarkable pair of innings, both scored at a rate in excess of 5 an over, to give them the platform they were looking for.
"The way we set the game up, with us having to bat on day one, the pace that we scored allowed us to get ahead of the game," he said. "Having 320 on the board is a good score anywhere. So we were able to inflict some pretty hard damage with that new ball on day one, get them three-down, and then the same again last night.
"It's tough for anyone when Jimmy and Broady get that new ball talking like they did," Stokes added. "I'm pretty blessed to be able to be in charge of this bowling group at the moment. But when you're out in the field, the idea is to take 10 wickets and that's what we've got to try and do. We've got an ethos with the bat, but also with the ball. It's about taking 10 wickets, and not worrying too much about how he runs they go for."
No one, however, went for more runs in the match than the New Zealand quick, Neil Wagner, who bore the brunt of England's second-innings onslaught with figures of 13-0-110-2, the second-most expensive bowling analysis in Test history.
Faced with Wagner's consistent short-pitched approach, England's batters set themselves to clear the ropes at every opportunity, and Brook was one of his main tormentors, striking his 11th over for three fours and a six, en route to 54 from 41 balls. Coupled with his first-innings 89 from 81, that took his overall Test record to 623 runs in eight innings, at an astonishing strike rate of 96.88.
"It is one of the most fun I've had," Brook said afterwards. "Every time I go out to bat, I'm really excited to just do whatever I want. I think it helped a little bit that they went bumpers early, obviously I stuck to my strengths and just kept on trying to whack it."
"Brooky's just carried on from his amazing series in Pakistan," Stokes added, after his Player-of-the-Series display in England's 3-0 win before Christmas. "He's a fantastic talent and I think he's going to go on to be a global superstar."
For New Zealand, there is likely to be a week of soul-searching after their fourth bruising defeat in as many matches against England's new aggressive approach, and Southee hoped that a return to red-ball cricket at the Basin Reserve in Wellington - one of New Zealand's iconic venues - could offer them a chance to regroup.
"Their style of play is going to present opportunities and we knew that," Southee said. "We were able to get nine wickets in the first innings, and in the second innings, we got all ten. But it's about trying to stem the bleeding in between those wickets, and trying to create those chances as often as we can."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket