Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum yesterday told the 18 first-class counties to adopt a fearless new philosophy in a major attempt to bring about greater alignment and cooperation in English cricket.
Stokes and England captain and coach McCullum spoke at a meeting of county cricket directors about the way they want to play and the qualities they look for in potential international players.
While counties retain full control over their style of play, Stokes and McCullum have spoken about the type of cricketers they are looking for to make county’s play fit their new mindset.
The meeting took place at the Hilton Hotel in St George’s Park, home of the English football team, when Gareth Southgate’s team gathers. While Stokes and McCullum – who is at home in New Zealand – were on the phone for about an hour via Zoom, the county cricket directors also had lengthy personal discussions with Rob Key and Mo Bobat, managing director for the case respectively.
The main topic of discussion was to ensure greater alignment between the national team and the counties, and to highlight the role the counties can play in helping the England team. Since 2015, there have been a number of players who have progressed to an international team with limited overs, playing in the same style as the England team.
It is hoped that greater clarity on what the Test side requires will now provide a similar set of talent for the Test side, enabling England to continue their stunning nine-win streak from ten Tests since the start of last summer.
The meeting was not prescriptive and counties will always be free to play as they see fit. However, making cricket directors aware of the needs of the national team will help them maximize their players’ chances of being promoted to the English team and ensure a steady supply of cricketers of a similar style.
The odds of significant support from the counties are greater due to England’s excellent recent record and the attractive style of cricket under Stokes and McCullum – which is likely to be very attractive to county members.
“It’s an attractive proposition, the way they play”
There is an understanding that not all players can play in the same buccaneering way that was a hallmark of England under McCullum and Stokes. But Key and Bobat shared insights on what they are aiming to achieve and the general ethos of the mindset England is trying to foster among cricket directors.
This means players focus on optimizing their unique strengths and playing the style that best reflects them, and recognize that batsmen are generally at their best when they can be unleashed.
At all levels of red ball cricket, England aim to develop a culture where players and coaches are not constrained by how things have been done in the past.
One county cricket director said the message to batsmen was: “If you have a background as a batsman, be prepared and open to experimentation. Don’t be afraid of going out, of making a mistake. Try to advance your game, be aggressive and show what you’re made of.
England players returning to the county championship and players seeking selection for the Test will be encouraged to play positively. But the counties are not expected to repeat England’s scoring tally in Pakistan, with the team scoring 5.5 points in three Test matches, with Key and Bobat stressing the counties’ autonomy to dictate strategy.
The meeting wasn’t just focused on Test cricket. Limited overs head coach Matthew Mott has also turned to cricket directors as England look to continue their stellar white ball run which saw the team become the first men’s team to win both the ODI and T20 World Cups at the same time .
More regular meetings between England seniors and counties are planned for the coming years to ensure a stronger sense of connection between the national team and first-class matches. This effectively implements one of the recommendations from last year’s High Performance Review which recommended “Picking the right players at the right time: Requiring clear selection criteria to be communicated to players and counties.”
The meeting marks the unfreezing of relations between the counties and the England and Wales Cricket Council, which have been strained since the results review.
“From the county’s point of view, this is extremely positive as the way they play the game is an extremely attractive proposition,” said Steve Elworthy, Surrey’s acting director of cricket.
He said a clear message of what the English Test squad are looking for will have a knock-on effect on the style players will adopt in county play. “Ultimately they want to play for England and you have to do everything you can to help them do that.
“There should be something that is a little more your core DNA of what it means to play for England. Then you also need county captains and cricket directors to bring their own personalities and stamp to it.
Another county cricket director said he welcomed a clear message from England.
“Communication from Rob, Mo was pretty good. They have to work with the counties because that’s where the players are made.
“They were very clear that they would not preach in the counties that we want you all to score 4.5 or 5 above by declaring and making a game out of everything. That’s not what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to make Test cricket fun.”