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Familiar flaws cloud over England's bright new dawn under Ben Stokes at Lord's

A dream start to the Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum era gave reason for optimism as the old guard, backed up by debutant Matthew Potts, got the new regime off to a flyer before a familiar batting collapse highlighted how much work still needs to be done to change England's Test fortunes

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Matthew Potts takes a wicket with his fifth ball in Test cricket as he dismisses New Zealand captain Kane Williamson for two.

It was the kind of morning that England could only have dreamed of.

For all the talk of a new era, a bright new dawn under the exciting leadership duo of Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes, England are still a side with just one win from their last 17 Test matches.

So, as the wickets tumbled in the first hour, world Test champions New Zealand were reduced to 12-4 before 'recovering' for 39-6 at lunch, the sense of mild disbelief around Lord's was entirely understandable.

So, too, was the nagging feeling that it was all just a little bit too good to be true.

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Statement performances have been a feature of both Stokes and McCullum throughout their playing careers, but the accepted consensus was that improving England's fortunes in red-ball cricket would be a gradual process.

One session does not change that, of course, but the value of making such a start and showing that they can impose themselves and dominate one of the leading sides on the planet should not be underestimated.

For a side that has been sapped of its confidence over the past 18 months, anything that can help maintain the feel-good factor that has been evident since the recent appointments were made, is to be welcomed.

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Yet for all the good work done in the field, the day ended with a feeling of 'here we go again' as a batting collapse saw the home side slump from 59-0 to 100-7. Some habits are hard to break.

Back down to earth with a bump and the scale of the task facing McCullum and Stokes brought into sharp focus.

England's Ben Stokes leaves the pitch after he is caught off the bowling of New Zealand's Tim Southee during the first day of the test match between England and New Zealand at Lord's cricket ground in London, Thursday, June 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Image: Ben Stokes was part of an England collapse of 5-8 late on the first day

Rewind to the morning session and it was the old guard that ensured the new regime got off to the best possible start, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad - with the help of Jonny Bairstow at third slip - doing the damage to dismantle the Black Caps' top order.

But even as England's familiar new-ball duo did their stuff, signs of change were evident. The slip cordon was packed, there was no fielder at cover, let alone sweeping on the offside boundary. The plan was clear: entice the drive.

Just as importantly, Anderson and Broad bought into the plan, pitched the ball up and risked conceding a boundary to boost their chances of finding the edge. Such was their accuracy, those boundaries were rare in the extreme. Indeed, Anderson ended his opening spell of six overs with figures of 2-4 with five maidens.

James Anderson, England vs New Zealand, first Test at Lord's
Image: James Anderson returned to the side and claimed four wickets at Lord's

A tough act to follow, you'd think. Well, not for Matthew Potts. The debutant needed just five balls to claim the prized wicket of Kane Williamson and proceeded to take 4-13 from 9.2 overs, bowling with impressive control and skill.

He nipped the ball both ways off the seam, extracted good bounce out of the surface and generally made life uncomfortable for the opposition batters before a bout of cramp denied him the chance to complete a five-for.

Stokes' bowlers were making his life a whole lot easier but he, too, deserves credit for holding his nerve when New Zealand went on the offensive after lunch. He kept his catchers in, urging his bowlers to stick with the plan that had got them into such a good position and while the lower-order frustrated them for a time, there was never any sense of panic.

There was clarity in the captaincy, skilful bowling from those old and new and the catching was flawless.

Those were the big positives on day one of the Stokes-McCullum era and they shouldn't be forgotten. Even on a day when the batting failings left an ominous cloud hanging over England's bright new dawn.

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