Brendon McCullum hailed his England side and skipper Ben Stokes after they secured a 2-1 series win over South Africa, with Stokes saying “we owed it to the nation”.
England took just 25 minutes on day five to seal a nine-wicket win over South Africa in the third Test at the Kia Oval, with the win continuing England’s remarkable turnaround in Test cricket under the leadership of McCullum and Stokes.
After a run of one win in 17 Tests prior to their appointments, England have won six of seven this summer with a 3-0 sweep of world Test champions New Zealand, a record-breaking chase to beat India and now coming from behind to see off a Proteas team that began the series at the top of the ICC World Test Championship standings.
“It’s fantastic. You start the summer off and you have huge aspirations, but you know the challenges you’re going to meet,” McCullum told Sky Sports after victory.
“New Zealand were the world Test champions, India were red-hot when we came up against them, and South Africa were top of the world Test Championship as well, so we knew the size of the challenge.
“We almost wanted to take results out of play – I know we’re judged by them – but almost take them out of play and play the style of cricket that is authentic to [Ben] Stokesy’s leadership and the guys that are in the side, and I felt we executed that nicely.
“We’re well aware you’re going to be judged by results, but for us it was a little bit bigger than that.
“When you get an opportunity such as this, and the responsibility of being in these positions of leadership, you look at where Test cricket is around the world and how important it is to all of those who have played the game beforehand, and the relevance of it in international cricket.
“For us, it was a matter of trying to bring a bit of enjoyment back, try and bring the fans in to make sure they’re enjoying Test cricket, and hopefully provide a bit more relevance to a game which has probably been under a little bit of pressure of late.
“That was the big goal and it will continue to be so moving forward.”
McCullum added particular words of praise for captain Stokes, who he labelled a “rare, incredible person”, and admitted had surprised him as to how influential and successful he has been as skipper.
“Well I didn’t actually want the [England] job! But now I’ve got it, I’m loving it! Absolutely I am, and it’s certainly different to what I’ve ever done before.
“I’m loving the opportunity to work with some of the best players in the world. I always looked at English cricket and thought there was an immense amount of talent. I didn’t quite realise how much talent there is and how good these guys are and the way they think about the game.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work alongside them, and I’ve particularly enjoyed working alongside the skipper [Stokes]. He’s a rare human being and an incredible person.
“He’s a great thinker of the game, his messaging has been excellent as well. I thought he’d be good, I didn’t realise he’d be this good. A natural leader. It’s a wonderful fit for him.”
Stokes: We owed it to ourselves and to the nation
After victory, Stokes spoke of the importance of different members of the squad contributing when needed, the buy-in from the group since he and McCullum have taken on leadership roles, and how the side owed victory to the nation…
“I think it has been a great series for us as a team. It has been a series where we haven’t had any real individual standout performances but different people throughout the series have put their hands up in crucial periods for us,” he said.
“In a team sport that’s what you want, you want to be able to turn to different people at different times and hope that they can break the game open for you with the ball and bat and that is what we have definitely managed to do this whole series.
“For me it is about the clarity of the decisions.
“Me and Brendon are the guys who are sending this message to this group of players, I said to the lads in the dressing room the other day that the person who is delivering the message can only do so much.
“But I thanked all my team, my backroom staff and my coaches that they have all bought into this.
“There is a reason why we have gone out and been able to perform and have the confidence in each other to go and do that. That is something that is very rare and something that you don’t see that often.
“This game here with it being shortened, our main aim was it ending in a result.
“We felt we owed it to ourselves, we owed it to the nation who have shown their support throughout this whole summer towards us and we will always continue to play in a way that we feel is going to entertain people and always look for the positive side of cricket.”
Stokes added further words of praise for England’s under-fire openers in Zak Crawley and Alex Lees, bowling duo Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, and former skipper Joe Root…
“Opening the batting in England is very hard, even the great Alastair Cook will tell you that, so credit to Leesy and Crawley to put their foot down and be that bit more aggressive.
“We are very lucky to have two of the great seam bowlers of world cricket [Broad and Anderson] in our dressing room, I feel very lucky to be in the dressing room with them.
“I get called old so I am not sure what you can call Jimmy at the moment being 40 but they just keep turning up day in, day out, they leave everything out there and they are just phenomenal.
“They are a huge credit to themselves, they are a huge credit to the game and I am sure a lot of young cricketers around the world who want to be fast bowlers will look up to them.
“You talk about Joe (Root) there, he has to take a lot of credit for how he captained the side for six years. For him to then buy in to something that is a different way to how he operated the team.
“Everyone has bought into it and I am just really grateful that we have a group of lads who have bought into it and seen the bigger picture of what me and Baz are trying to achieve.”
Robinson: There’s still work to do | Broad: It has been great fun
England’s player of the match Ollie Robinson told Sky Sports…
“Yeah it has been a really enjoyable comeback for myself and the team.
“The experience over the last few weeks has been really enjoyable and it has just been great to be with the lads again. It is nice to get where I am at the moment but I don’t think I am the finished article by any means.
“There is still a lot of work to do, we have got a tough winter ahead so I will keep pushing on. The environment is a great place to thrive under Stokesy and Baz at the moment.
“I think you can see with how we are playing on the field, everyone has got a smile on their face and everyone is having a great time out there.”
England bowler Stuart Broad told Sky Sports…
“It has been great fun.
“The mindset that Baz and Stokes have brought into the group of looking to always play in a positive way, almost taking the scoreboard out of the equation and always taking the positive option, it has worked for us.
“It is something that sometimes you feel like things like that can take a bit of time to bed in but the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow at the start of the summer playing in that style, and Ollie Pope at Trent Bridge, embedded it into the team really quickly.
“Looking back at the start of the summer, those chases were incredibly special weren’t they, there was never a doubt in the changing room’s mind that we were going to go and chase those scores and even bringing that to this game.
“It has been very powerful.”