Flag-bearer of the new-age England Test side, who are out to change the way the longest format of the game is perceived, captain Ben Stokes vowed to maintain the same mindset against the top-quality Indian side when they face them in the Birmingham Test starting July 1. India are currently 2-1 up in a five-match series following a 157-run win at the Oval but are now set to face a revitalised England side likely to feature only four survivors at most from that match — Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Bairstow and James Anderson — later this week. This Test match will be treated as the ‘fifth Test’ of the series which was earlier postponed due to Covid-19 issues.
“Regardless of the opposition, we’re still going to have the same mindset,” Stokes told reporters after England won the third Test complete a 3-0 sweep against New Zealand.
The dynamic all-rounder, on a mental health break from cricket at the time of the fourth Test against India, added: “Obviously, it’s going to be a completely different… different opposition, with their attack and players as well.
“We’ll be concentrating on what we’ve done well over these last three games and look to continue that against India on Friday.”
England had won just once in 17 Tests prior to the New Zealand series, albeit many of those matches were played under mentally-draining coronavirus restrictions that no longer apply.
But the shackles have been lifted in an exhilarating start to life under McCullum, one of the most attacking players of his generation.
“I knew that everyone would buy into the new mentality me and Brendon set out, but I didn’t think it would go this well to be honest,” said kindred spirit Stokes.
In the space of just over a week, Bairstow struck two remarkable Test hundreds, his 136 in a run chase at Trent Bridge was followed by an astounding 162 which rescued England from the depths of 55-6 in the first innings at Headingley.
Monday witnessed more blazing hitting from Bairstow, who struck England’s second-quickest Test fifty of all time, off just 30 balls, on his way to an unbeaten 71.
Former England captain Joe Root played second fiddle while making 86 not out as he shared an unbroken stand of 111 with his Yorkshire team-mate.
Root was named England’s player of the series after scoring 396 runs at an average of 99, in a continuation of the form that has taken him top of the Test batting rankings.
McCullum, however, has had a more immediate impact upon Bairstow.
“I’ve never heard a bloke get 130-odd off 90 balls like he did at Trent Bridge and then ask his head coach how to go out and play,” said Stokes.
“Baz McCullum basically just said, ‘Go and get your Sudoku book, sit next to me and shut up. Whatever you did last week, go out and do it again.’
“With Jonny, it’s just about making sure he knows what he’s in the team to do.”
New Zealand arrived in England with questions over how they would replace the retiring Ross Taylor and BJ Watling only for their effective replacements — Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell — to share four century partnerships.
But omitting frontline spinner Ajaz Patel — who in December became only the third bowler in Test history to take all 10 wickets in an innings, against India in his birthplace of Mumbai — for the last two matches of this series proved costly, with off-break bowler Michael Bracewell thrashed for 109 runs in 15.2 overs during England’s run-chase at Headingley.
“We opted for the balance of the side to go with three seamers,” said New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. “We were curious to whether it would turn but it’s just one of those things.”
(With agency inpiuts)