A Tilting your head towards the sky with your eyes closed. This is how it ends, or rather, this is how it begins. Shoaib Bashir was given the England Men’s Test cap number 713 in Visakhapatnam last week and as has become customary, he was presented with his dark blue cap in one Short but meaningful pre-game scrum on the outfield. The man leading this game was Bashir’s Somerset teammate Jack Leach.
“Trust me when I say you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t totally deserve this…we can’t wait to watch you play…don’t forget to smile out there, that’s all the team of You and the others need rest will follow.”
Bashir was visibly touched by his teammate’s words (one whose injury had freed up a place in the starting XI). His long fingers visibly trembled as he wiped a sniffle from his face while Leach spoke touchingly and haltingly, suppressing a few emotions himself. He mentioned Bashir’s journey and the sacrifices he and his family had made to get to this point . There were no side jokes about visa issues to cloud emotions; It was a touching moment that Bashir will probably never forget.
The hugs and handshakes afterwards were full of genuine warmth, the good spirits of the entire squad bouncing off one another like Teletubbies in a mosh pit, the gentle West Country grunt and soft, stirring words of Leach ringing out epically across the ACA-VDCA cricket stadium Poem or a subtle war cry. In short, who wouldn’t want to be part of this England team right now?
When you speak to former England players, one of the first things they often want to emphasize is that they would never swap their era for another. “Keep an eye on your franchise wealth and your smartphone, we had it best in our time” thing. At some points in the last decade, it wasn’t all that hard to believe them. It would be now.
The kinship and positive atmosphere that Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum cultivated won over many, including two of England’s gnarliest and grizzled Test captains of modern times – Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain. Both rave about the current regime and are no doubt aware that the dressing rooms they ran probably presented a much more difficult environment for his debut.
Rob Key, chief executive of England men’s cricket, tells a story about his debut alongside Steve Harmison under Hussain’s captaincy in the 2002 Trent Bridge Test against India: “He (Hussain) shook my hand: ‘Well done, Kent.’ He shook Harmy’s hand, “Well done, Durham.” And walked away.”
Twenty years later, in December 2022, Hussain stands on the outfield in Karachi and says a few more heartfelt words presented teenage leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed with his debut cap. Ahmed was about to become the youngest player to make his Test debut for the England men’s side and his father Naeem was invited to the packed presentation. He listened as Hussain drew parallels between his own journey and that of Naeem and his boy.
“It’s a story I know well, and I know what your old man went through. The pride you must have in your heart this week as you watch your 18-year-old son play cricket at the National Stadium in Karachi is incomparable.” Naeem Ahmed later described the presentation as “the best moment of my life”.
Michael Atherton introduced his colleague Tom Hartley from Lancaster with his debut Test cap ahead of the Hyderabad Test and said: “This is the absolute best environment, under Ben and under Baz.” Hussain ended his speech in Karachi by saying: “I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys and a better team Imagine the environment in which you could start your journey.”
Stokes has often cited the World War II film “Fury” and the leadership qualities of tank commander Don “Wardaddy” Collier as inspiration for his actions on and off the field. Played with a bit of tenderness and a lot of masculinity by Brad Pitt, with a gleaming chin and sleek curls – a look Stokes chose to accompany the India tour until the recent buzzcut – Don Collier’s men show him unconditional loyalty and admiration. One of the film’s main storylines is how Collier guides a young “replacement” soldier named Norman through the realities and ultimately the horrors of war. You don’t have to look very closely to see how Stokes took inspiration from the way he manages his own young charges.
Be it by putting a new ball in the hands of his young spinners and asking them to open the bowling alley, telling them not to worry – and meaning it – when their first ball, their sixth ball, is And Many other balls are smoked into the stands. Supporting them with attacking fields, keeping men around the bat and away from the boundary, beaming with almost fatherly pride when they hit a six themselves, or hitting a flurry of boundaries when promoted to express any nervousness faggot, end of a day.
Hartley, Ahmed and Bashir have already done things in the Test arena that they will never forget, all overcoming adversity of all kinds to do so. They trampled on the fire and came out the other side better. Words are one thing, actions are another. Under Stokes’ leadership, the England team is proving adept at both.
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