New Zealand v England: After the Bash at the Basin, bring on the Ashes – NewsEverything Cricket

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New Zealand v England: After the Bash at the Basin, bring on the Ashes – NewsEverything Cricket
New Zealand v England: After the Bash at the Basin, bring on the Ashes – NewsEverything Cricket

New Zealand and England players shake hands at the Basin Reserve
New Zealand’s win over England was only the fourth Test won by a team asked to follow-on

There are facts and there are feelings.

The bare facts are that England lost the second Test to New Zealand by one run, only the second such defeat in history.

England lost a Test after making the opposition follow-on for the first time, the fourth such defeat in history. The series was levelled at 1-1.

The feelings? Not so easy.

The anguish of Harry Brook being run out without facing a ball, the exhilaration of Joe Root’s counter-attack.

The pain of Ben Stokes’ defiant limping, the wonder at where Neil Wagner was finding the energy to bowl bouncer after bouncer.

The growing belief in Ben Foakes, the comfort of knowing that Jack Leach has form as English cricket’s most famous sidekick.

Actually being moved at the sight of James Anderson, 40 years old and 179 Tests deep, shuffling to the middle with seven runs needed to win, then the straight-up out-of-the-seat joy when he clubbed Wagner for four.

And, at the end of it all, the utter disbelief when Anderson’s tickle down the leg side nestled into the gloves of Tom Blundell. A roar loud enough to stop the traffic in Mount Victoria Tunnel, the Wonder of Wellington complete.

Everyone inside the beautiful Basin Reserve fortunate to have seen it, to have had the feels – all of the feels – that only sport of this kind can give.

It was last May when Brendon McCullum strolled into Lord’s as the new head coach and said England could be the team to save Test cricket.

Even McCullum, who left such an indelible mark on cricket in his own country that it makes New Zealand England’s ideal dance partners, cannot have imagined it would turn out quite like this.

Whether or not you think this was a celebration of Test cricket or an opportunity wasted by England is an individual opinion as to why sport exists.

In another world they might have won it a day earlier and the match would already have been forgotten. Instead they lost and it will be talked about for many years to come.

Perhaps there is a sweet spot somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the importance placed on winning versus entertainment created changes on the circumstances, opponents and prize on offer.

“To be a part of that game was amazing,” said England captain Stokes. “That is what you play Test cricket for, to be in those moments.

“It doesn’t mean for a second we’re not fussed about winning or losing. We are disappointed when we lose. We also love winning – it’s something we will always give ourselves the best opportunity to do.

“If it doesn’t work out that way, we’ll hold our hands up and say the opposition were better than us, and New Zealand were better than us this week.”

What we can say is the transformation in perception of this England team is complete. A year ago this would have been another loss in a catalogue of disappointments. Now, the reservoir of goodwill was overflowing not only because of the 10 wins in 11 matches that preceded this reverse, but the thrilling manner in which those victories were obtained.

Even in defeat, England have thrown another party in honour of Test cricket. To the Tear-Up at Trent Bridge, Elation of Edgbaston and Rave in Rawalpindi, add the Bash at the Basin.

Would a similar loss in an Ashes Test be greeted in quite the same way? It’s all well and good to say you never want to draw a Test, but what’s the plan when you’re 2-1 up at The Oval in July?

Stokes has three months or so to ponder that possibility, while at the same time trying to bring his left knee off life support. Now might be a good time for a national newspaper to print a picture of the troublesome joint so we can all lay our hands on and say a prayer.

The all-rounder says he knows the problem but won’t reveal what it is. He believes he can manage and even rest it through the Indian Premier League, but that won’t stop the rest of us fretting every time he pulls on a Chennai Super Kings shirt. The last time he played an IPL match, Stokes mangled his finger.

Speculation over the health of Stokes’ knee will form part of the hype towards the most eagerly anticipated home Ashes since 2005, which from an England point of view can now officially begin (Australia still have two Tests of torture to endure in India).

There are hors d’oeuvres for both teams: England a date with Ireland at Lord’s, Australia a probable appearance in the World Test Championship Final.

Selection decisions will be pondered, Jonny Bairstow and David Warner headlining the debate on either side. Steve Smith will head to Sussex to prepare and Glenn McGrath will be within range of a microphone long enough to say Australia will win 5-0.

Amid the unknowns is the certainty of the way England will go about regaining the urn. They have come this far and are not about to take a backward step.

“The amount of time we’ve had over the last 10 months building what we’ve created in terms of this new ethos and the way in which we play isn’t going to change when the pressure really does ramp up within the Ashes,” said Stokes.

“That would be a waste of 10 months.

“Getting this team into a position where we are now, even to go slightly back into our shell because we’re playing against Australia in the Ashes, wouldn’t have done the last 10 months any justice whatsoever.”

But what of Australia, the team that ooze the most machismo on the planet? Is the country that gave us Merv Hughes’ moustache, David Boon’s drinking and Dennis Lillee’s chest hair going to allow itself to be outflexed by the Poms?

As England blast the ball to all parts (or at least try to), are Smith and Marnus Labuschagne really going to keep leaving it in more and more ridiculous ways, like two men pretending to have a lightsabre fight with a couple of baguettes?

And is it enough for England to play that way, but not win the series? Is it better to win hearts or the urn?

“We’ll try to play the cricket that we want,” said McCullum. “If winning is the outcome at the end, fantastic.

“We’re going into it with a squad that believes in one another and has a style of play which we will uphold throughout. If Australia are too good for us, then so be it.

“If they’re not, we’ll have the urn.”

There are 108 days for our excitement to build.

“Stay excited,” said Stokes. “I’m very excited.”

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