Matches (10)
Hazare Trophy (4)
BBL 2023 (1)
Asia Cup [U19] (2)
SA v IND (1)
ZIM v IRE (1)
IND v ENG (W) (1)

When England became fun again: why Lord's 2015 was a watershed Test

After two years of barely-acknowledged crisis, New Zealand's last Test visit to Lord's was a seminal moment for English cricket

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
England celebrate after Moeen Ali takes the winning catch at third man  •  Getty Images

England celebrate after Moeen Ali takes the winning catch at third man  •  Getty Images

Sensory deprivation does remarkable things to the brain - especially when that period of stasis is over, and all that missing stimuli floods back into the cortexes. Such is the experience awaiting England's cricketers this week, when the appreciative roar of even a 25% crowd at Lord's will surge through their skulls as though they've finally broken the surface after a year-long deep-sea dive.
But for some of the players on show, a strange sense of déjà vu may accompany that whoosh of acclaim. At Lord's six years ago, on New Zealand's last Test tour of England, a similar reconnection was achieved - albeit one, like some dodgy wiring in a set of headphones, hadn't seemed overtly likely until the moment at 6pm on the fifth afternoon, when Moeen Ali reached high at third man to claw down Trent Boult's uppercut and unleash the crowd's full-fidelity response to one of England's most compelling team performances of recent times.
Four years later, the same two teams would contest a far more headline-grabbing Lord's encounter to decide the 2019 World Cup. But it's debatable whether England could have been primed for that shot at glory had it not been for the lessons learnt on the field, and more importantly the demons slain off it, over the course of those five pulsating days.
Like any great Test match, the narrative of Lord's 2015 is compelling even when you strip it of all context. Despite slumping to 30 for 4 on the first day, and watching their opponents rattle along to 403 for 3 in reply, England found the right heroes at the right moments to, first, stay in the fight at all, then bend the contest inexorably to their will. The match aggregate of 1,610 runs would end up being the highest in Lord's history, surpassing Graham Gooch's 333-and-all-that against India in 1990, and of those, Ben Stokes would lash a combined 193 from 186 balls to confirm his arrival as England's next great allrounder.
The support cast was barely less compelling. England's captains then and now, Alastair Cook and Joe Root, put in performances of vast and differing stature to establish the framework for victory, while Mark Wood hustled in for four wickets on debut to confirm himself as a point-of-difference operator worthy of long-term investment. As for New Zealand, pacesetters for the first three days of action, Kane Williamson (with a first-innings century) and Trent Boult (with nine wickets in the match including 5 for 85 into the teeth of Stokes' second-innings onslaught) each etched himself onto the Lord's honours boards. It truly was a game with something for everyone.
"I think that was the turning point for me in international cricket. I was in and out of the team, and if I was in, I was batting No. 8."
Ben Stokes on the Lord's Test of 2015
But throw in the wider context, of an England team in the throes of a barely-acknowledged crisis, and the match becomes all the more epochal.
For something had been distinctly off about English cricket over the preceding two years - a dissatisfaction that had found a strange peak on New Zealand's previous visit in 2013, when Cook's England had attracted criticism for winning the second Test at Headingley too slowly, the very epitome of a first-world problem.
Even when England saw off Australia in the subsequent home Ashes, the sense persisted that all was not quite as rosy as the 3-0 scoreline implied. The kerfuffle at The Oval, when England's celebrations were marred by the impromptu "watering" of the pitch on which they had just closed out the campaign, was seized upon by their critics as evidence of a side that become boorish in its pursuit of glory, and worryingly remote from both the media with whom they seemed increasingly reluctant to engage, and by extension, the wider public.
But England's ticking time-bomb detonated in Australia that winter. Their 5-0 defeat was excoriating in its own right, but the devastation of their previously champion team was unrelenting. Jonathan Trott departed the tour after one Test while suffering from burnout, and never recovered his poise; Graeme Swann retired mid-tour after deciding his damaged elbow could never be the same again. Even Ian Bell, seemingly at the peak of his powers after three hundreds in the home victory, admitted to ESPNcricinfo last week that his mental fatigue from that winter would prove to be insurmountable.
Most significantly, there was Kevin Pietersen - the ultimate spectre at the feast, as England's standards atrophied in the wake of his sacking for crimes against the team's "ethic and philosophy" in February 2014. Players' reputations often soar in absentia during times of team duress, but for the next 18 months, KP took this phenomenon to new levels. He was everywhere, even as he was nowhere, and never more ghoulishly than in the wake of England's catastrophic World Cup campaign in the spring of 2015.
To all intents and purposes, England had brought the fever-pitch of attention on themselves. Regardless of his innate good-eggery, the re-appointment of Pietersen's nemesis Peter Moores as Andy Flower's replacement in April 2014 had been an absurdly retrograde step, and as his tenure dissolved at the World Cup, amid pointless quibbling over whether he'd said "later" or "data" in a post-elimination interview with the BBC, it was inevitable that England's timid campaign would be judged against the fearless, world-beating standards that the management had chosen to blackball.
And by the time of New Zealand's arrival in the spring of 2015, Moores had been sacked during a miserable wash-out at Malahide, and Pietersen's force of personality had flooded into the resulting void - thanks to some egging-on from the incoming ECB chairman, Colin Graves, who let slip that KP could yet be considered for a recall if he managed to rack up enough runs for Surrey on his return the county circuit.
It was a challenge that Pietersen was too savvy to pass up. At the precise moment that England's Test team was preparing for a series in the Caribbean, KP was stealing a disproportionate share of the headlines by slamming a century against a bunch of Oxford students in a non-first-class warm-up for Surrey at The Parks. A month later at Lord's, Andrew Strauss was unveiled as England's new director of cricket - awkward timing for an ECB reboot, given that Pietersen was in the process of battering a career-best 355 against Leicestershire at The Oval.
Strauss - whose relationship with Pietersen, post text-gate, wasn't exactly cordial - was adamant that England had more than enough young champions waiting in the wings to draw a line under the Pietersen era once and for all. But the visit of New Zealand - World Cup finalists under Brendon McCullum two months earlier, and a team as free from self-doubt as England seemed crippled with angst - promised an instant and immersive test of their resolve. And at 30 for 4 after 12.2 overs on the first morning at Lord's, England seemed to be flunking their lines from the outset.
But then came the redemption, as epitomised by two characters who had been through the wringer in the preceding months. On the one hand there was Stokes, the stand-out performer during England's 5-0 loss in Australia, but who had seemed a lost soul in between whiles - most notably in the Caribbean 12 months earlier, when he'd broken his own wrist by punching a locker in rage at another cheap dismissal. His form in the lead-up to the World Cup hardly made his absence a travesty, but it was indicative of a team too scared to compete with the best.
Now, however, with the interim coach Paul Farbrace calling the shots in this crucial early phase of England's new era, Stokes was restored to the No. 6 slot from which he'd been evicted while racking up three consecutive ducks in the previous home series against India, and the faith placed in his batting talents were repaid in an instant.
"I think that was the turning point for me in international cricket," Stokes would later admit in an interview with Sky Sports. "I was in and out of the team, and if I was in, I was batting No. 8. So when Farby gave me that opportunity to come back into the side at No. 6, again there was that self-belief, knowing that I'd done this role successfully, whether for England or back at Durham."
And at the other end throughout Stokes' riotous 85-ball second-innings hundred (the fastest at Lord's and faster than either of England's two hundreds at the World Cup) there was Cook, compiling a pièce de resistance, as it were, spanning 345 balls and precisely nine hours.
At that moment in time, Cook had been a somewhat tarnished emblem of old-school England. In the Caribbean earlier that month he'd made his first Test century in almost two years, but in addition to being dumped as one-day captain only months before the World Cup, he'd spent much of his year being caught in the crossfire between Pietersen and the ECB - not least by the foghorn punditry of Piers Morgan.
Now, however, he had the match situation in which to revert to his most obdurate stereotype, as well as the young-buck sidekicks to make a virtue of his durability. Inch by inch, hour by hour, New Zealand's hold on the contest was loosened, and ultimately prised clean off, as England's bowlers - Stokes again to the fore - swarmed at their opportunity to pinch the contest on the final afternoon.
And so to that crowd - a fifth-day audience of first-come-first-serve cricket fans, quite distinct from the usual polite but mildly uninterested burble of MCC members, debenture holders and bring-your-own-champagne quaffers who tend to make up the standard Lord's experience. This was a real clientele, delivering real acclaim for a real performance. And it made the hairs stand up like nothing that England had produced for months.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket