“Ben Stokes shines as England’s newest Test debutants in The Spin, a land for young men.”
The head tilts upward and both eyes close. This marks the end, or rather, the beginning. Last week in Visakhapatnam, Shoaib Bashir became the 713th player to receive a Test cap for England’s men’s team. As per tradition, he was given his dark-blue cap in a brief but significant huddle on the field before the match. Leading this ceremony was Bashir’s teammate from Somerset, Jack Leach.
Believe me when I tell you, you wouldn’t be in this position if you didn’t truly deserve it … we’re excited to see you perform … remember to smile out there, that’s all the team wants from you and everything else will fall into place.
Bashir was visibly affected by the comments of his teammate, whose injury allowed him to take a spot in the starting lineup. His long fingers trembled as he wiped away a tear while Leach spoke emotionally and hesitantly, also struggling to hold back his own emotions as he mentioned Bashir’s journey and the sacrifices made by him and his family to reach this point. The moment was sincere and heartfelt, without any jokes about visa issues to take away from the emotion. It was a touching moment that Bashir will likely remember forever.
The embraces and high fives that followed were filled with sincere affection, as the positive energy of the entire team reverberated like Teletubbies in a music festival crowd. The gentle accent of the West Country and motivating words from Leach echoed throughout the ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium, resembling an epic poem or subtle battle cry. In summary, who wouldn’t want to be a member of this current England team?
Frequently, when conversing with former England players, they are quick to emphasize their satisfaction with their era and would not trade it for any other. They often express a sentiment of preferring their time over the current era of wealthy franchises and constant smartphone scrutiny. In recent years, it was easy to understand their sentiment, but now it may not be as convincing.
Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have created a strong sense of camaraderie and positivity, which has impressed many people, including two of England’s experienced Test captains, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain. They both speak highly of the current team culture, acknowledging that when they were captains, the dressing rooms were likely more challenging for new players.
Rob Key, managing director of England men’s cricket, tells a story about making his debut alongside Steve Harmison under Hussain’s captaincy in the 2002 Trent Bridge Test against India: “He [Hussain] shook my hand: ‘Well done Kent.’ He shook Harmy’s hand: ‘Well done Durham.’ And walked off.”
In December 2022, twenty years after the incident, Hussain is on the field in Karachi and delivers a heartfelt speech while presenting Rehan Ahmed, a young leg-spinner, with his debut cap. Ahmed is set to become the youngest player to make his debut in an England men’s Test match and his father, Naeem, was also present for the ceremony. Hussain draws similarities between his own journey and that of Naeem and his son, as he addresses them.
I am familiar with this tale and understand the challenges your father has faced. The sense of pride you must be feeling this week, as you watch your 18-year-old son play cricket in the national stadium of Karachi, is unmatched. Naeem Ahmed later referred to the experience as “the greatest moment of my life.”
Michael Atherton presented his fellow Lancastrian Tom Hartley with his debut Test cap before the Hyderabad Test, saying: “This is the absolute best environment, under Ben and under Baz.” Hussain ended his speech in Karachi with the words, “I couldn’t think of a better set of lads and a better environment in which to start your journey.”
Stokes frequently references the war movie Fury and the leadership qualities of tank commander Don “Wardaddy” Collier as a source of inspiration for his actions on and off the field. Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Collier, with his strong jawline and slicked-back hair, exudes both tenderness and masculinity – a look that Stokes himself has adopted until recently when he got a buzz cut for the India tour. Collier’s men display unwavering loyalty and admiration for him. One of the main plotlines of the movie is Collier’s guidance of a new private named Norman through the brutal realities of war. It is evident that Stokes has drawn inspiration from this in his management of his own young teammates.
Whether it be thrusting a new ball into his young spinners’ hands and asking them to open the bowling, telling them not to worry – and meaning it – when their first ball, their sixth ball and plenty of other balls are smoked into the stands. Backing them with attacking fields, keeping men around the bat and away from the boundary edge, beaming with something nearing paternal pride when they club a six of their own or hit a flurry of boundaries when promoted up the order to stub out any nerves at the fag end of a day’s play.
Hartley, Ahmed, and Bashir have all achieved memorable feats in the Test arena and have each faced challenges that they will always remember. Despite facing adversity, they have persevered and emerged stronger. While words are important, their actions speak louder. Led by Stokes, this England team is skilled at both talking the talk and walking the walk.
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