England's victory over Australia in the first Test in Cardiff was quite clearly Made in New Zealand. Without New Zealand at the World Cup and without New Zealand's all too brief pre-Ashes tour, England would still be back in the dark ages, unloved by their heartland followers even in an Ashes summer, while pursuing their patented careworn, angst-ridden version of cricket.

New Zealand didn't actually invent the idea that sport was something to do with youth and exuberance, but they, more than any other team in international cricket, have demonstrated the point again and again in recent times.

When in doubt, attack. And don't blame people when attacking doesn't come off - a great British vice. Instead, praise them for their intent and see what happens next time. Above all, play sport as if it wasn't one of the torments of the damned: a process of eternal agony shot through with occasional shafts of relief.

New Zealand showed the world how to play cricket during the World Cup, when they became everybody's second favourite team. During their tour of England they showed again, with red ball and with white, that cricket is a more rewarding game when you're not hag-ridden by self-doubt, when every player is agreed that it's better to play for your team than for your place.

The amazing thing is that England took this on. They've even managed to play a whole match against Australia without bitter sledging. This new approach shows in selection, with young players coming in. It has showed in coaching, with young players encouraged to go up and at 'em, rather than model themselves on wily old pros who give nothing away.

Australia came to England expecting to see the usual bunch of old fogeys, plus a sprinkling of young fogeys playing to the usual old-fogey conventions, hidebound by data and rigid plans, played out by people scared of their own shadow

And glory be, it even showed in Alastair Cook's captaincy. Cook has often looked like a man in need of an "I'm in charge" T-shirt. As a tactician he likes a safety net, a life jacket and a passenger-side airbag - though he likes eccentric field settings that show he's a "thinking captain".

But a close watch on the New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum has shown him that there's more to captaincy than funky fields. Cook spent the first Test against Australia asking questions of the opposition, constantly challenging them, never being entirely predictable, and always being ready to give it a go.

Australia came to England expecting to see the usual bunch of old fogeys, plus a sprinkling of young fogeys playing to the usual old-fogey conventions, hidebound by data and rigid plans, played out by people scared of their own shadow and determined to show as little initiative as possible. Because that's how it was last time.

And with England 43 for 3, it looked as if they were damn right. Had England been 43 for 4, they would have been damn right. Had Brad Haddin caught Joe Root second ball for nought on the first morning, as he damn well should have done, all the Brave New World Stuff would have come to nought as well.

Instead Root scored 134, added another 60 in the second innings, took two wickets on the final day of play and held the catch that finally won it. So Root's wonderfully cheerful display - setting the tone for the England performance - depended on a catastrophic error from the opposition.

Such things happen. It's called luck, and to be lucky means to receive an advantage from circumstances beyond your control. You don't make your own luck: what the smart cricketer - the smart anybody - does is to recognise luck when it happens. Then you do everything you can to make the most of it.

Root did that all right - and doing so is an aspect of playing sport as if there was a little bit of joy involved. England have had some fabulous moments of late from Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Mark Wood and Jos Buttler. England have taken a punt on a number of young players and a lot of these punts have come off.

That's partly to do with this new atmosphere of giving it a go. And it's not just a matter of taste: it's vital. The fact is that Test cricket is changing in front of our eyes. The influence of the shorter forms of the game is felt in every five-day match these days. Don't look to history to work out what represents a good first-innings total: it's all different now.

You don't make your own luck: what the smart cricketer - the smart anybody - does is to recognise luck when it happens

There's a sense in which everybody playing top-level cricket is currently reinventing the game of cricket as we go along: and that's a process more readily done with a bunch of young bucks. We're all in new territory: the knowledge of wise old heads in the press box and the commentary boxes is not terribly relevant to the way the game is being played right now.

Cricket, like all sports, is perpetually evolving, but the development of cricket has been on fast forward since T20 was established. Test cricket has become a game that nobody can really understand right now and no one can really predict. England have taken a dramatic step closer to the cutting edge of the game.

It's not only a win, it's the right sort of win. There's almost a moral dimension to it: it feels as if England have left a great pile of stinking bad things behind them. The traumas suffered by so many England players during the last tour of Australia and the radioactive fallout from the detonation of Kevin Pietersen can now be left for students of sporting history. England are remaking themselves and it's all rather thrilling.

I was at the wedding of a divorced person when I thought: there's nothing in life quite as glorious as a second chance. A chance to redefine yourself, amend your life and distance yourself from the bad past. England find themselves in this position, and they have taken the opportunity with both hands. They got the chance to do this because Haddin was unable to take his own opportunity with any hands at all.

Small error. Big consequences. Maybe very big.

Simon Barnes is a former chief sportswriter of the Times and the author of more than 20 books