NASSER HUSSAIN: Alex Lees’ transformation under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum has been incredible


NASSER HUSSAIN: Alex Lees’ transformation under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum has been incredible… his mindset has been changed more than anyone else’s under the new regime

  • Alex Lees has been a different player since England’s change of leadership
  • He starred at No 1 on day four against India as the hosts began a record chase
  • Lees and Zak Crawley achieved England’s fastest ever century-opening stand  
  • Following a miscommunication with Joe Root, Lees was eventually run out for 56

If you had told anybody watching Alex Lees in the Caribbean he could play the way he did on Monday in that fabulous opening stand they would never have believed it.

The transformation of Lees since the second innings of the first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum has been incredible.

The sight of him charging Mohammed Shami third ball of the second innings here on Monday set the tone for the opening pair and England’s chase. Lees immediately put India’s formidable attack on the back foot. The runs simply flowed after that.

The transformation of Alex Lees under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum has been incredible

Lees celebrates reaching his half century after helping England start the chase in strong fashion

Lees celebrates reaching his half century after helping England start the chase in strong fashion

Then, when spin was introduced for the ninth over in the form of Ravindra Jadeja, Lees just went bang and smashed the bowler back past him to the boundary. He followed that, in the same over, by reverse sweeping Jadeja for four — and he is not an easy bowler to hit.

It was an approach that silenced Indian fans in the crowd, made the bowlers change their lengths and made the ball go soft quicker. It was never reckless nor headless.

This is the way, by all accounts, Lees played in his early years at Yorkshire, when Jason Gillespie gave him the nickname ‘Haydos’ because he reminded him of Matthew Hayden. 

Maybe this is why Stokes is batting the way he is because the captain’s attitude is filtering through his team.

The players must be thinking, ‘If our skipper is running down the pitch then so am I’.

Ben Stokes is leading by example and encouraging the rest of the squad to bat without fear

Ben Stokes is leading by example and encouraging the rest of the squad to bat without fear

What a shame for England it ended the way it did for Lees with that run-out mix-up after tea with Joe Root because this was the template for how he should play in future. 

More than anyone, his mind-set has been completely changed by the new management.

This was an encouraging innings, too, for Zak Crawley. It is clear he has made small technical changes in this rearranged final Test. He is standing a little taller at the crease, has his weight more forward and his back leg a bit less bent.

But for me the biggest change has been in Crawley’s mind- set. It is that big booming drive early in his innings that has been getting him in trouble because, opening in England, it is a low percentage shot. Crawley gave himself more of a chance here.

Lees was eventually run out for 56 after tea following a miscommunication with Joe Root

Lees was eventually run out for 56 after tea following a miscommunication with Joe Root

It was also an encouraging innings for Zak Crawley, who reached 46 before being bowled

It was also an encouraging innings for Zak Crawley, who reached 46 before being bowled

He is so talented that he should never have been giving it away so often but here he left the ball beautifully — at least until he left one that was too straight and bowled him — and that meant the bowlers had to come to him and feed his strengths off the pads.

India were forced to put the ball where Crawley wanted it until, when it went a bit softer, they had to go to their fourth seamer Shardul Thakur. Then Crawley was able to bring out that cover drive which is such a strength as well as an early weakness. He can and should play the shot, just not so early on with the Dukes ball moving.

That leave which did for Crawley in the end came in the over after the ball was changed, which has been a feature of this Test summer and something I don’t agree with.

I’m not saying that because this time it went against England. The same was true on day three when England managed to get a harder replacement and suddenly there was movement and uneven bounce.

Crawley and Lees celebrate their century opening stand, the fastest ever for England in a Test

Crawley and Lees celebrate their century opening stand, the fastest ever for England in a Test

There is clearly a problem with this year’s batch of balls. Yes, they are going soft and yes they are going out of shape but that is part of cricket and they are being changed far too often.

The problem is finding a replacement that has had the same amount of use because you just don’t know what the ‘new’ ball will do.

The only reason teams constantly want them changed this season is not because they have gone out of shape, but because they are not offering any movement.

The laws say the balls can only be changed at the umpire’s discretion and it is not simply down to whether they can pass through the hoops. But they are not exercising that discretion.

I saw one of the balls that had been changed earlier this summer and it wasn’t too bad at all.

Yes, balls do go out of shape, particularly if they are being smashed into the boards the way Lees and Crawley were hitting them on Monday, so, unless the ball is so bad it looks like a dog’s dinner, bowlers must just be forced to get on with it.

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