New England captain Ben Stokes hopes to steer the Test side back to winning ways with the promise of a fresh start and a partnership with Brendon McCullum that leaves players feeling “10 feet tall”.
Five weeks on from his appointment as England’s 81st men’s skipper, Stokes will lead his country out at Lord’s on Thursday against a New Zealand side who became the inaugural World Test champions on these shores last summer.
It will be an emotional occasion, not least because his Christchurch-based mother Deb and brother James have travelled for a family reunion more than a year in the making.
But Stokes takes over a side at a low ebb, having last won a series over 14 months ago and with a chastening sequence of one victory in their last 17 matches.
And while the personnel remains familiar, with a debut for Durham seamer Matthew Potts the only injection of new blood, Stokes is confident he can turn things around.
He has made a point of throwing his support behind the men around him – making recalls for veteran seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad his first priority in the job.
He’s also promoting Ollie Pope to number three despite a shaky record in international cricket and brushing aside concerns over Zak Crawley’s form at the top of the order.
“I’ve said to the guys who are in now: you’ve got the backing. This is the role and this is your chance,” he said.
“This is our time and we are going to dictate how things go forward. There’s been a lot of talk about a ‘reset’, which is a word I don’t like.
“I just see it as a completely blank canvas. 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.”
Stokes preaches selflessness on the field and it was that precise quality – as well as an impressive haul of 35 wickets in six games this season – which earned his county teammate Potts his first cap ahead of Craig Overton.
“Obviously, he’s a Durham lad, but here’s no bias there. He has been outstanding in the games I’ve played,” he said.
“I think the one thing that really made my mind up about Pottsy getting this opportunity was when he bowled us to victory against Glamorgan.
“He turned up on day four with a bit of a stiff side and, someone in his situation, with Test selection coming round the corner, could have just sat back and said, ‘I’m going to just look after myself here’. He didn’t, he ran in and he won the game for Durham.
“That’s the attitude that sets you at the next level and really makes you open your eyes that this kid is ready, he’s been phenomenal – he’s an athlete and everything I expect this team to be going forward.”