Stokes backs McCullum to make England feel ‘10 feet tall’

Three-match Test series to start from Tuesday
<p>Photo: AFP</p>

Photo: AFP

Ben Stokes has said Brendon McCullum was already making England’s players “feel 10 feet tall” ahead of the first Test against the coach’s native New Zealand at Lord’s starting Thursday.

The series opener of a three-match contest will be England’s first since new Test captain Stokes, himself born in New Zealand but brought up in Cumbria, in England’s northwest, succeeded Joe Root as skipper.

It will also be England’s first game following the appointment of former New Zealand captain McCullum as their Test coach, with the new leadership duo bidding to revive the fortunes of a team who have won just one of their last 17 matches at this level and gone over 12 months without a red-ball series victory.

They now face a New Zealand side that under Kane Williamson, McCullum’s successor as captain, became the inaugural World Test champions by defeating India in the final at Southampton last year, shortly after they completed a 1-0 campaign triumph away to England.

For all the talk of a fresh start, England had just one debutant in fast bowler Matthew Potts when they named a familiar-looking XI on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, dynamic all-rounder Stokes’s influence has led to the recall of veteran new-ball duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

The pair, England’s two most successful bowlers at this level, with 1,177 Test wickets between them, were controversially omitted from a recent 1-0 series loss in the Caribbean.

Stokes has also been a prime mover in the decision to promote Ollie Pope to number three, despite the Surrey batsman’s modest Test record, with star batsman Root now back in his favoured position of number four, and to retain struggling opener Zak Crawley.

‘Our time’

“I’ve said to the guys who are in now: you’ve got the backing,” Stokes told a pre-match news conference at Lord’s on Wednesday. “This is our time and we are going to dictate how things go forward…I just want everyone to feel free under my captaincy.

“It’s been a good few days working with Brendon. He is all about making everyone feel, in his own words, ‘10 feet tall’. I’m actually not nervous – I am just very excited to get going.”

Potts, a county team-mate of Stokes at Durham, gets his chance after an injury crisis deprived England of several fast bowlers including Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson and Jofra Archer, with the 23-year-old having taken 35 wickets in six County Championship matches this season.

New Zealand have yet to name their XI, although Daryl Mitchell will replace sidelined batsman Henry Nicholls.

But doubts remain over whether outstanding left-arm quick Trent Boult can feature at Lord’s, given he only arrived in England after playing in last weekend’s Indian Premier League final.

New Zealand, with Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Neil Wagner and Kyle Jameson all in their squad, do have plenty of other pacemen capable of challenging England’s fallible top order.

“Trent is a world-class player but we’ve got great variety in our bowling attack,” Williamson said.

One of the world’s leading batsmen, the 31-year-old added he was fully fit following an elbow injury and looking forward to leading his team of “purists” at Lord’s, where Williamson already has a coveted place on the dressing room honours board thanks to a hundred he made against England at the London ground in 2015.

The teams, however, may not be greeted by a traditional full house for a Test at the ‘Home of Cricket’, with thousands of tickets, some priced as high as £160 ($202) per day, still to be sold amid a cost of living crisis and the rival attractions provided by this week’s platinum jubilee of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who is also New Zealand’s head of state.

A concerned Stokes said: “The ticket price is something that I think is going to have to be looked at properly, because what is cricket without its fans? What is sport without its fans?”

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