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The Light Roller

England are finally becoming the team they wanted to be - New Zealand

Baz's boys and Stokes' folks are going to nice-guy the hell out of Test cricket or kill the format trying

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
18-May-2022
Ben Stokes gets a handshake from Brendon McCullum, England v New Zealand, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day, May 24, 2015

Two legit to quit: the tattooed combine that will make all of England's kiwi dreams come true  •  AFP/Getty Images

Who amongst us - with the possible exception of Brad Haddin - doesn't have a soft spot for New Zealand? The designated Nice Guys of world cricket, they have inspired a legion of dedicated kiwi fanciers with their wholesome brand of understated effectiveness, winning hearts and minds (and even the occasional trophy) along the way.
Currently there is no one looking more longingly in the Black Caps' direction, silently mouthing "I wanna be you", than England. Not content with basing the overhaul of their one-day teams a few years ago on New Zealand's Brendon McCullum-led band of derring-doers, they have now opted to bring in the twinkly T20 sage himself as their new Test coach. Truly, has there ever been a more overwhelming case of Stockholm syndrome than that inspired by England's 2015 World Cup battering at the Cake Tin?
With McCullum and (Christchurch-born) allrounder Ben Stokes forming a totemic tattooed twosome in charge of the Test side, England seemingly intend to go down swinging, at the very least. Which most fans would probably agree is better than going down in a crying heap, as has been increasingly the case. But what will life be like under the "Thriller Bees"? Let's sift for clues.
Positive cricket
One of the most-memorable McCullum gambits was charging down to Mitchell Starc in the opening over of the World Cup final. Sure, he had his stumps splatted and New Zealand ended up being thrashed, but it's the principle that matters. Stokes has a similar mindset. Be it balls, bodies or dressing-room lockers, both love to smash it.
Spirit of the game
In his 2016 MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture, McCullum regretfully recounted running out Muthiah Muralidaran after he had left his crease to celebrate a team-mate's hundred. Don't be surprised if Stokes decides at some point down the line that the whole runs-off-the-back-of-the-bat thing in the 2019 final was a grave injustice and offers to repatriate the stolen World Cup to New Zealand.
Team culture
McCullum took over as New Zealand captain in the wake of the bungled removal of Ross Taylor, helping to heal a split dressing room and rebuild the team from one of its lowest points in recent times. Stokes takes charge of England following one of the longest and most successful (technically speaking) captaincies in their history, and with the team still completely behind his predecessor, Joe Root. He's got a hell of a job on his hands.
Playing with a smile
A central McCullum philosophy. Might be tricky for James Anderson to get his head around.
Tattoos
If in doubt, spell it out. McCullum has his international cap numbers on his shoulder; Stokes has them on his arm. McCullum has a silver fern on his chest; Stokes has one on his shoulder, plus a pride of lions on his back. Both have tributes to their wives and kids among their body art. Stand by for Mark Wood having his imaginary horse tattooed on a buttock, Jack Leach getting 1* etched into his neck, and Zak Crawley discovering some Maori heritage.
So there you go. England's Test decline has been slow and painful, but now they're going to live fast (or kill the format trying). Time for members of the Barmy Army to all go out to get "Baz Boys 4 Life" inked on a bicep.

****

Chennai Super Kings may not stand a chance of winning this year's IPL, but their fans have something even better to celebrate: MS Dhoni is back at the wheel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ravindra Jadeja's brief captaincy stint was an unhappy affair - made all the more difficult, the Light Roller suspects, by having the "Dad's Army" alpha lurking in the background. "For the first two games, I simply oversaw his work and let him be later," Dhoni said after being reappointed for the rest of the season. "After that, I insisted that he take his own decisions and bear responsibility for them." Strong overbearing paterfamilias vibes from Mahi there, like the dad who grudgingly allows his son to have a go at being the map-reader on a family walk. Now everyone's lost and, adds Dhoni regretfully, if we all die out here, then we know whose fault it is. Still, character-building stuff for young Jaddu.

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More transformation lolz coming out of South Africa, where attempts by CSA to remove Mark Boucher as men's team head coach over allegations about past racist behaviour backfired. Never mind that the board was shocked - shocked! - to discover that hiring a group of white former players to management positions en masse might provoke a response from those who believe South African cricket is long overdue a reckoning on equality. CSA's efforts to address examples of discrimination raised during last year's Social Justice and Nation-Building hearings then fell flat due to the unavailability of witness testimony. The intentions are good, clearly. But it seems before CSA can make a significant dent on historic racial injustice, it will have to transform a reputation for historic administrative incompetence.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick