Michael Atherton believes Ben Stokes’ bold approach to Test cricket is harnessing the strengths of this England team, but that it remains to be seen whether other countries will follow suit.
A destructive batting display against Pakistan in the first Test – which saw the tourists rack up 657 runs in the first innings and then race to 264-7 declared in their second – set up a 74-run victory in Rawalpindi which secured a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series.
It was a continuation of the attacking mindset the Test team showcased under captain Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum during the home summer Tests and while Atherton does not know if other sides will follow suit, he understands why England have chosen to take this approach.
“That remains to be seen, whether other sides get sucked into how England are playing,” Atherton told Sky Sports. “There is some sense behind England’s strategy because they see their great strength is their attacking batting.
“They have got a lot of young players like Harry Brook who are multi-format players, they have grown up on T20 and therefore it makes sense to utilise that strength and play to your strengths.
“Other teams may see it differently; other teams may have different strengths.
“Australia have four bowlers with over 200 Test match wickets, that is more of a strength for them – three particularly good quicks and a spinner in Nathan Lyon.
“Certainly, as far as England are concerned, Ben Stokes is changing the face of English Test cricket. He is trying to do things very differently.”
England having batters prepared to take on the opposition’s bowling is not new, but what has caught the eye most for Atherton is how the entire line-up have taken the message from coach and captain on board.
Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Brook and Will Jacks all scored at quicker than a run-a-ball in each innings on the batting-friendly surface at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, something Atherton has not seen from all but a few individuals previously.
“I haven’t seen an England team commit so whole-heartedly as a unit to playing attacking cricket,” Atherton said. “We have always had attacking players when you think of [Kevin] Pietersen, [David] Gower, lots of players down the years.
“[Denis] Compton and all these guys who were dashers in their own right and brilliant cricketers – but what this team is doing is committing as a unit.
“All 11 are committing to absolutely aggressive and attacking cricket and I have not seen that before from an England team.”
England now head to Multan aiming to wrap up a series victory with what would be only their fourth Test victory in Pakistan in their history, although may face a surface which favours spin as opposed to the flat track which offered little for the bowlers in Rawalpindi.
Nevertheless, former England captain Atherton does not expect the tourists to alter their approach too much.
“You can’t discount anything with Stokes in charge,” Atherton said. “He really wants to forget about convention and tradition and tear up the rule book and do it his way.
“Basically, however he thinks England can win this Test, what is their best route to victory, and he will go down that route even if it means using some fairly unorthodox and not traditional methods.
“I am sure with the bat England will go hard. Whether they can go seven-an-over again I don’t know.”
Watch day one of the second Test between Pakistan and England, in Multan, live on Sky Sports Cricket from Friday. Build-up gets under way at 4.30am ahead of a 5am start.