They may have lost the battle, but England’s ‘crazy’ one-run defeat to New Zealand has only served to help win the war for the soul of Test cricket, so exciting and unforgettable was their brilliant clash in Wellington.
That’s the view from the players and coaches involved in the epic encounter – and a view that is shared by media back in the United Kingdom.
And while one loss won’t ‘derail’ England’s Ashes preparations, there have been warnings that they may need to tone down their attacking approach or risk further defeats.
‘No better game in the world’: Even Poms ‘can’t feel too gutted’ after epic Test loss
In the last 12 months, England’s Test squad has been revitalised – and have undeniably served to revitalise international red-ball cricket with their entertaining tactics.
Coach Brendon McCullum said: “It would have been nice to win the Test and the series. But right at the start of this campaign we said we wanted to entertain and bring fans into the game, to bring more relevance to Test cricket, and even on the wrong side of it, I thought we did that today. Credit to New Zealand, they were epic in defence of that total but we played our part.
“I was actually quite calm. We had played so well during the Test. Whether we win or lose, I know we will get judged on that, but what we’re trying to do is play a style of cricket and try to entertain people around the world. When it gets as tense as it got, it’s a little in the laps of the gods and it wasn’t meant to be for us.
“Even after we lost, walking into the dressing room there were still smiles on faces because we kind of achieved a small part of what it’s about – to make Test cricket exciting. But obviously it’s still disappointing to lose.”
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England superstar Ben Stokes had a similar mindset despite the defeat.
“Gosh, I mean what a game,” said Stokes. “It was crazy, you just don’t know what to do with yourself, but if you look back at that Test, even in our dressing room on the losing side, and are thankful you’ve been involved in it.”
Speaking to BBC Sport about the moment James Anderson lost his wicket to end the Test, Stokes said: “I didn’t know how Jimmy would react when he walked off.
“He’s been in those positions before where he’s walked off disappointed, but the fact he was walking off smiling made everything we talk and speak about true and a reality.”
England’s big risk in enforcing the follow-on – even though it ended in an extremely rare defeat – was the epitome of the ‘Bazball’ style.
Nick Hoult wrote in the Telegraph: “The result was the ultimate definition of how McCullum views the game: do your best to win, if you lose playing the right way, then fine. Enforcing the follow on with a limping Stokes and ageing Broad and Anderson was the turning point but it was overcast, New Zealand’s top order was creaking and it was the right call at the time. It is just that Kane Williamson is a great player and salvaged the match.
“It would not be tolerated quite as easily if this had been the fifth Test at the Oval and the Ashes on the line but England have achieved so much, and progressed so far since the moribund cricket of 12 months ago, that if they were going to lose then this kind of scenario can be forgiven.”
Having torn through New Zealand’s top order easily in three consecutive innings, the decision was more than understandable. But, Hoult added: “Perhaps it is a useful moment too, a reminder that might just have to dial down Bazball at times to get the job done.”
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Just how aggressively England pursues their tactical decisions in the Ashes could prove a crucial factor. As far as the decision to enforce the follow-on goes, Tim Wigmore wrote in the Telegraph: The follow on has become increasingly unpopular in Test cricket. It is even less necessary for a team playing a game in which draws have gone the way of the Dodo.”
Regardless, England are still enjoying a stunning rise. The defeat was their first in seven matches – and stopped them from making history with victory in every single Test on the road across an entire (English) winter for the first time since 1899.
Stephan Shemilt wrote for BBC: “This loss will not derail England’s preparations for the summer Ashes. Their style is established and they are transformed from the team that were on a run of one win in 17 Tests this time last year.”
Wigmore added – in his article titled ‘Why agonising defeat could be a good thing for England’: “From a team that did not know how to win, England have resembled one that do not know how to lose. Yet perhaps this will be one happy by-product of Wellington: giving England experience of how to process a defeat and respond stronger.
“England will surely have to find a way to respond to Australia winning a Test match in the summer. Experiencing a loss now might reduce the risk of a comedown if they have to respond to defeat in the Ashes. Having to cope with losing might reduce the fear of losing, thereby encouraging a continuation of England’s dynamic style.”
But perhaps even more important than England’s turnaround is the impact it is having on the game. As Hoult wrote: “To lose by one run after enforcing the follow on does more to preserve the status of Test cricket as the ultimate form of the game than cantering home to victory.”
Even NZ captain Tim Southee was full of praise for the effect England’s approach is having on the game. He said it was a ‘pretty special’ win, adding: “It is great for Test cricket the way England have been playing and it was another great Test match to be involved in.
“All the guys here cherish Test cricket and hopefully having matches like this will be good for Test cricket going forward.”