England juggernaut is testament to self-belief
English cricket is buzzing after the way the new captain/coach partnership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum has revitalised the national team’s approach to Test cricket.
Three stunning victories chasing against world champions New Zealand and then a record chase against India, their predecessors, has the potential to draw new fans through the gates and show that Test cricket is not dead in England after a tumultuous spell of only one win in 17 matches that including humbling defeats in Australia and the Caribbean.
It just shows when you have momentum as a group and that belief and confidence, you can sort of do whatever. I think with India’s first-innings total and England being bowled out 132 behind, it could have easily been, “We’ll just try and fight it out for a draw.” But with the mentality within that group now, you can just see it’s always all about winning. It showed in the way they bowled in India’s second innings and then they came out with the bat and were going at six an over at one stage. The first 100 came in 15 overs or something, which just shows that once you throw pressure back on the opposition with the skill level and the experience that they have on that team, it felt like it was always going to be one result — and that was England winning.
This willingness to chase down anything the opposition set is infectious. It may not always come off, but once you have turned on the tap, I doubt we’ll see it turned off anytime soon under this leadership team. It goes back to that confidence. They just back themselves in any situation and back that they’ll get over the line. It was one of those things that the Australia team had with Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and my old coach Jason Gillespie back in the day when Ricky Ponting was captain. They had a trend of the way they used to go about it. No matter what, they would bat first and go and win games like that. Once you’ve got some sort of consistency and the understanding between the team that everyone knows what’s going to happen, knows what we’re going to do at the toss, and knows how we’re going to go about it, it just gives you that belief as a group. It’s refreshing.
At Sussex, the problems we have had with injuries, key players moving on and the inconsistency they bring took their toll in the Vitality Blast. In losing our two final home games, first to Essex and then to Hampshire, we had glimpses of what we’re capable of as a group. But throughout the whole year, there haven’t really been full games of it like we’ve had in the past. It’s difficult to go on in a tournament without that sort of consistent all-around performance. That said, the positive to take from this for next year is that there are young guys stepping up and putting in performances to show that we’re good enough to compete at this level. It’s just the fine-tuning required so that we can come back stronger and you can see a lot more results.
People will say when you lose someone, try and replace them, but I think sometimes it’s hard to replace people who have been such key members of the team for so long —whether it’s on or off the field. Losing CJ [Chris Jordan to Surrey], who captained the side for a few games when Luke Wright was injured, and also Salty [Phil Salt to Lancashire], who was in that leadership group and knew how to make decisions and get the team moving forward, was huge. But when people leave, there is an opportunity for others, and we’ve been able to see some more younger guys come through. However, this was never going to be like-for-like, so we just hope that the year of experience with them playing this year could help us to kick on next year.
This has been a trying season personally but I have been appreciative of the feedback in the way my game has progressed. Recently, there were comments about my fielding. It is always something that I pride myself on — always wanting to make an impact in the field. Previously, I wasn’t bowling as much, so it was just my batting and my fielding which was really important. Wherever you can save a run in the field or have a moment of brilliance — take a good catch or get a run-out to help the team win — those are all things that build up to getting momentum and putting in positive performances. I feel it’s non-negotiable and that you must throw yourself around in your fielding and have that energy. I try to bring as much energy as I can, and hopefully it's a knock-on effect for the others.
On Monday, we are back in the County Championship and coming off a momentous win against Derbyshire, which broke a winless run in the four-day game that stretched back to April 2021 — 19 matches!
We did a bit of an England in chasing down the 342 required on the final day in only 73.1 overs, and that can give us a bit of momentum and that extra belief that we are good enough to win games at this level. Obviously, coming up against Leicestershire, we have form in that we nearly got over the line against them at Grace Road in May.
In this next week coming up, it is all about preparing ourselves as best we can and trying to go that one step farther and get another W to give us two on the bounce. Winning builds confidence within the group, within individuals. And it would be great to take into a nice week against Middlesex at Lord’s. Stepping out at Lord’s is pretty special — every time you get to be there, let alone play there. We put ourselves in a position to win against Middlesex at home as well, so if we can get a win next week against Leicestershire, and take that momentum and confidence into a week at Lord’s, it also could be another positive result for us.
• Delray Rawlins was talking to Dexter Smith