After a hugely disappointing winter, Ben Stokes was named England's new Test captain, with New Zealander Brendon McCullum appointed Test coach, with his first assignment a three-match series against his home nation.
Ian Bell and Carlos Brathwaite sat down to discuss England's future the new coach and captain, as well as the evergreen James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
“It’s really interesting, the fact he’s never coached in red ball cricket,” said Bell. “He’s been a Test match captain, he’s played 100 Test matches, so experience is not a problem. He knows how to manage big games and big players, which is important. But I think it’s all going to come down to the culture he sets.
Brathwaite played under McCullum for the Kolkata Knight Riders, and believes he will lead from example with England.
“Seeing both sides – under his leadership and playing against him – he creates a safe place in the dressing room,” said Brathwaite. “The level of emotional consistency is going to be very important.
“From playing against him, he’s someone who enjoys himself off the field, but he’ll also be the first man in the gym the next morning running off whatever he consumed the night before!”
“He’s walking into a team a little bit low on confidence,” said Bell. “Losing an Ashes series and then in the West Indies as well, there’s a few guys who’ll need a boost.
“When I look at the side, we’ve got the two senior bowlers in Anderson and Broad, there’s a lot of experience there. There’s a lot of injuries in the seam bowling department, but that looks pretty good.
“I think his important thing will be the batting unit, making sure that he can get a batting unit that can get 350-400 on the board that gives those bowlers the opportunity to win Test matches.
“I think the positive for Brendon at the moment is that domestically, there’s been a lot of runs scored in four-day cricket as well, so there’s players in form, scoring big runs.
“There’s no doubt with Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley, there’s some Test match batters there, and the talent and ability is all there, it’s just whether he can find the bit that’s missing, be it the mental side of the game or the tempo the play at.
“If he can get that right and the top five functioning really well, he can get England being successful in Test match cricket a bit quicker.”
Ben Stokes was appointed Test captain following Joe Root’s resignation earlier in the year, and fellow all-rounder Brathwaite believes it could be a struggle to juggle both roles.
“It’ll be difficult,” said Brathwaite. “I think there’s a reason most captains – successful captains – have been batters. Jason Holding and Pat Cummins in my opinion have been successful, and one thing you can attribute both of those successes to is having very good deputies, so I think Joe Root will still have a massive part to play in the field.
“I don’t think any England fan will want Ben Stokes bowling and be thinking about captaincy. You need Ben Stokes to bowl when he’s bowling. You need the aggression, the fight and the heart, and it can be a bit draining to go through processes as a bowler, and then worry about fielding positions, who’s going to bowl next, setting up the session etc.”
Stokes’s first Test as captain sees James Anderson and Stuart Broad re-enter the fold after being omitted from the West Indies series, which Bell believes will prove to be a smart move.
“I feel very lucky to have played in an era where we’ve had two of the best England have ever had, who’ll go down not just as individuals, but as a partnership with the likes of Warne/McGrath, Walsh/Ambrose, Younis/Akram.
“Hopefully they continue as long as they can. It will be interesting to see how England manage them, whether they play one and rotate, I’m not a massive fan of rotation, I believe playing your best team whenever.”