It was a fitting end to a 3-0 series win that may become a reference point in time as Jonny Bairstow launched Michael Bracewell for six over long-off and embraced his fellow Yorkshireman, Joe Root, after the completion of another staggering run chase.
England were once again on the march and New Zealand brushed aside, Bairstow’s blow completing the blitz of a 296 target in 54.2 overs. After drizzle on the fifth morning relented they needed only 64 minutes to knock off the final 113 runs, with Ollie Pope’s demise in the first over, bowled neck and crop for 82 by Tim Southee, the only stumble.
Bairstow, fresh from flipping this match with his sparkling 162 in the first innings, and after that jaw-dropping 136 at Trent Bridge, emerged in bristling mood, cracking eight fours and three sixes for an unbeaten 71 in 44 balls. Root simply glided from an overnight 55 to 86 not out and, though the shock and awe at the other end meant missing out on his 28th Test century, his smile remained a constant.
Up on the balcony Ben Stokes was padded up as the next man in, drinking in every boundary of this rather foregone conclusion. His side had fought back from 55 for six on the second day to win by seven wickets and the partnership with Brendon McCullum has burst out of the stalls like one of the head coach’s racehorses back home.
England’s first clean-sweep on home soil since 2011 was not simply about the scoreline and an end to the bleeding from their winter misery, but the manner in which it came about; the thundering blade of Bairstow – and the shot that sealed the deal – the embodiment of what captain and coach have asked of their players.
As one of English cricket’s great disruptors, Eoin Morgan, prepares to say farewell to international cricket this week after his one-day side were reborn through a series win over New Zealand seven years ago, it is hard not to wonder whether we have witnessed something similar this past month. The beauty now comes in finding out.
Like Morgan and Trevor Bayliss, Stokes and McCullum are preaching relentless positivity. There has been just one ticking off – Bairstow, for signing autographs on the boundary’s edge in Nottingham when Stokes tried to move him – and they are leaning into the attacking talents of their players with a licence to fail trying rather than die wondering. This is what Rob Key was after when he brought the pair together.
The sample size is small, no question, and there have been sliding doors moments. But England’s three successive run chases in excess of 275, the wins at Lord’s and Headingley coming after first-innings collapses, and a debutant in Jamie Overton making 97 from No 8 say a fair bit about the wind of change that has blown through.
Stokes has already given his team an identity – something that was seldom the case under Root – and it is clear this means pushing the envelope in Test cricket. This season they are collectively scoring at nearly 4.5 runs per over, compared with 3.1 in their previous two home summers; one has to go back to the 2005 Ashes, when Australia were met head on, for a similarly punchy approach.
The captain even wanted the series finale done and dusted on Sunday evening, only to accept that 296 in 41 overs (plus seven for the extra half-hour) might be pushing it. Still, he has personally led the charge by going hard at the ball from No 6 and, though reckless at times – he strikes far cleaner when set – the message has been clear.
Out on the field Stokes has been assertive and inventive and, though catches have gone down, shoulders have not. He has similarly stamped his mark on the attack, showering Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad with love after their Caribbean exclusion and seeing buy-in from the two greats, ushering in young Matt Potts – what a prospect he looks – and imbuing Jack Leach with confidence.
“I’ve not seen a happier dressing room for one individual,” said Stokes, when asked about the left-arm spinner’s 10-wicket match. “He’s continued to be brave and his mindset is towards taking wickets not controlling the scoreboard. And that comes from our mindset as a batting unit: we’re never going to fear any total.”
New Zealand depart with the careers of Daryl Mitchell – three centuries, 538 runs at an average of 107.6 – and Tom Blundell – 383 at 76.6 – enhanced, and memories of Trent Boult’s sublime new-ball burst in the first innings at England here. They take home a suitcase full of regrets too, however, not least the absence of a front-line spinner this week.
There was also Colin de Grandhomme bowling Stokes with a no-ball in England’s run chase at Lord’s, the drops off Pope and Root during centuries at Trent Bridge and Kane Williamson failing to review an lbw against Overton in Leeds when he was five runs into his 97 on debut; had he done so, England would have been 65 for seven.
These moments should probably temper the excitement over England’s start a little and there is a swift turnaround before the rescheduled fifth Test against India on Friday. But it can already be said with some certainty how they intend to approach it.