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England’s Test series in New Zealand ended in a 1-1 draw after two matches that provided plenty of talking points.
Here are five things we learned.
England are the great entertainers
Ben Stokes said he felt “blessed” to be part of the thrilling match in Wellington despite losing by one run.
Test losses do not come much more exasperating, especially after surrendering such a commanding position after enforcing the follow-on, but Stokes considered the bigger picture in defeat.
“What everyone has enjoyed here today is probably bigger than any disappointment at the moment,” he told BT Sport after the unforgettable climax at the Basin Reserve.
“Being in that situation in the last half an hour, it is everything you wish for.
“And even though we came out on the wrong side of it, you can’t help but feel blessed that we managed to be a part of an incredible game like that.”
This marauding England side are determined to redefine Test cricket under Stokes and McCullum who continue to push boundaries in their mission to grow the game.
England lost in Wellington, but Test cricket was the real winner.
Harry Brook is a genuine superstar
The stats: Brook scored more runs in his first nine Test innings than anyone else in history, with an average of over 80.
He has already picked up three player of the match awards and, following events in Wellington, the wicket of legendary Kiwi batter Kane Williamson.
His rapid rise has been phenomenal and he looks like a bona fide superstar in the middle order alongside Stokes and Joe Root aged just 24.
He amassed 329 in his first three innings of the tour before, through no fault of his own, he was run out without facing a ball as England chased victory on the final day.
Brook has enjoyed a few golden months with the bat but there was incredulity when he was thrown the ball before he snared one of the greats of the modern game in Williamson to spark a New Zealand collapse.
There can be no doubt that England have a prodigious talent perfectly suited to the Stokes-McCullum mantra to enjoy for years to come.
Stokes is struggling with knee problem
Stokes struggled with a knee problem in Wellington, bowling only two overs and struggling while batting in the fourth innings.
The captain was in obvious discomfort throughout the game and his fitness is a concern ahead of the summer Ashes series.
Before then, he is set to travel to India for the IPL to fulfil his £1.6m contract with Chennai Super Kings.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s incredibly frustrating knowing something is holding me back being able to fulfil my role, especially as a fourth seamer,” he said.
“I’ve been working hard with the physios and the medics trying to get myself into a place where I can fulfil that role how I have done over the last 10 years.
McCullum added: “He’s a tough bloke. He’ll find a way to get through and I know he’s determined to lead this team to Ashes glory as well. We look forward to it.”
Stokes remains a huge influence regardless of whether he bowls or not, but his fitness will be big talking point ahead of a pivotal summer for English cricket.
New Zealand are tough to beat at home
New Zealand became just the second team to win a Test by one run in Wellington and they remain a tough prospect for anyone at home.
Their form has been patchy since winning the inaugural World Test Championship in 2021 and they have had to deal with the loss of several key players including Trent Boult.
But their heroics on the final day at the Basin Reserve extended their unbeaten home record in Test cricket to 11 series.
They still have several world class players including captain Tim Southee and Williamson and a number of other players stepped up against England including Matt Henry, Tom Blundell, Neil Wagner and Daryl Mitchell.
“The guys have shown great character in the last few days,” said Southee. “They stayed calm. If we’d walked off and shaken hands and it wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t good enough.
“But the openers stood up in the second innings, so did Daryl Mitchell, Kane Williamson, Tom Blundell…it was a typical scrapping Kiwi effort.”
Any hope of defending the World Test Championship ended long ago, but New Zealand have demonstrated their prowess on home soil once again as they prepare to welcome Sri Lanka in March.
The Ashes is shaping up to be spectacular
England’s astonishing turnaround has set the stage for a riveting Ashes this summer, with only one Test against Ireland remaining before the first match at Edgbaston in June.
Australia, still the top ranked side despite losing the opening two games in their tour of India, could still reach the World Test Championship final at The Oval in the same month.
Just 12 months ago, Australia were firm favourites to retain the urn but 10 wins in 12 Tests have redressed the balance with 108 days before the first ball is bowled.
There is still lots to be settled before the series gets underway but what is for certain is that England will not compromise their enterprising style of play against Australia.
“Getting this team into a position where we are now, even to go slightly back into our shell because we’re playing against Australia in the Ashes, wouldn’t have done the last 10 months any justice whatsoever,” said Stokes.
McCullum added: “We’ll try to play the cricket that we want. If winning is the outcome at the end, fantastic.
“We’re going into it with a squad that believes in one another and has a style of play which we will uphold throughout. If Australia are too good for us, then so be it.”