It stands to reason that you are more likely to be good at something if you enjoy doing it.
Go to work, garden, learn whamola. You had the idea.
For a long time, the only thing less enjoyable than playing for the England Test team was watching them.
Not so much to draw the curtains if they were playing in the garden, but to have the police escort them out and issue a restraining order so they could never set foot in the same county again.
The transformation under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum is absolute not just in terms of results – nine wins from 10 Tests capped by a historic 3-0 victory in Pakistan – but the restoration of joy to all aspects of English Test cricket.
New Zealander McCullum is a man who always looks like he’s having a good time, but Stokes knows what it’s like to struggle – just 14 months ago he ended a break from the game.
“Very early this summer I tried to portray to guys that we were in the entertainment business,” Stokes said.
“Go out and entertain the people watching. Try to make every day of a test as entertaining and watchable as possible. Enjoy the moment.”
All of this is a perfectly reasonable goal, but much more difficult to put into practice.
Professional athletes are often in the grip of doubt. It’s a rare career where you know there’s always someone out there looking to snatch your spot on the team, or squad, and basically take your job.
Keith Miller, all-rounder in Don Bradman’s Invincibles and World War II pilot, once said that pressure is a Messerschmitt on your tail – “playing cricket isn’t”.
The pressure, however, can be overwhelming for a cricketer and often comes from within.
It is therefore perhaps the removal of pressure that is the key to the success of the Stokes-McCullum diet.
After the three-day round loss to South Africa in the first Test at Lord’s, England’s only defeat under the Ben-Baz axis, Stokes returned to the dressing room, unsure of what to say.
“Guys were a little down,” he recalls. “The first thing I said was ‘well guys raise your hand if you want to play golf’.
“They were looking at each other. I’ll never forget the relief on their faces, because they were wondering what was going to be said after we were beaten so badly. It relieved the shoulders.”
Pressure removed, pleasure added.
Training can include a penalty shootout or a game where a helmeted coach attempts to direct a tennis ball falling from orbit. McCullum’s questionable taste in music is often the soundtrack to an internet session.
The day before the final test in Karachi, the team held a six-hit contest, North versus South, then Stokes versus McCullum. The coach’s win meant the captain had to serve Harry Brook dinner that night.
In the build-up to the Pakistan series, England have traveled to the F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, ahead of the New Zealand tour in February they will meet again for a holiday in Queenstown. McCullum says he can’t wait to show the team around his country, probably with a glass of red in hand.
If this sounds like the world’s longest bachelor party, it’s part of a larger plan to keep gamers as relaxed as possible so they’re in a better position to play at the top of their game. powers.
There is also a time for business. The training sessions, often optional, are targeted and adapted so as not to lose a moment.
“I feel like in cricket a lot of practice is done for fun and you don’t get much out of it,” Stokes said.
“You just go there because that’s what to see. There has to be a result for that effort, not showing up, rolling your arm, having a bat for 30 minutes but not getting anything out of it and not not improve as a player.”
The outcome was spectacular, not only in terms of results, but also in the way they were achieved.
The chases against New Zealand at Trent Bridge and India at Edgbaston were the most fun anyone could legally have in their clothes. Accumulating 506-4 in 75 overs on day one against Pakistan at Rawalpindi, cricket logic bent.
By the time they arrived at the third test against Pakistan, England were completely hysterical. Not content with making Rehan Ahmed the youngest man to ever play Test cricket for England, Ahmed went 5-48 as a kid with the Brian Lara Cricket cheat code.
The same England who refused to chase 273 in 75 overs against New Zealand at Lord’s 18 months ago tried to clear 167 in Karachi within the hour and with just a few remaining on day three. Nobody was the least bit surprised when they sent Ahmed down to number three.
Not that Stokes’ side only play one way. They can do tough jobs.
Beating South Africa by a set in the second Test in difficult and changing conditions at Old Trafford was probably their best performance of the summer. The 1,512 balls England had to send to take 20 wickets on Rawalpindi sleeping ground was the most they had played in a Test victory for 30 years.
The second Test in Multan, with Abrar Ahmed spinning to 11 wickets, and the third Test in Karachi, where they lost the coin toss, are games that former English sides would have bowed to. Despite all the Bazball talk, tourists have changed their style at various points in both.
Looking ahead, England’s biggest problem will be fitting all of their players into an XI. Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and Jonny Bairstow will all be available at some point in 2023.
There’s a question of how they might react if the results deteriorate, which every English fan hopes doesn’t happen in an Ashes series that’s shaping up to be the most anticipated in years.
“You do this all the time. Let’s just take advantage of being 3-0 up,” McCullum said, when the Australians’ prospect was brought up.
Maybe it’s up to the rest of us to get excited about the Ashes.
For now, England are having too much fun.