Much recent talk in cricket circles has centred around captaincy and retirement.
No one should be shocked by the success of Ben Stokes as captain. He's an allrounder who understands bowling. On the field his main priority is taking wickets, and despite Joe Root's dazzling success as a batter, Stokes is the most inspirational England player on the field.
The former cricketer and excellent captain Imran Khan declared that a good captain understands bowling. Stokes is such a player, and the team believing in his approach is a huge positive for the England side.
When Eoin Morgan announced his retirement from the England limited-overs captaincy, the timing of it reaffirmed former Australia captain Richie Benaud's thoughts on how to make the decision on when to step down. "You'll know," was his typically succinct and wise comment on the touchy subject. The best summary of it came from another former Australia allrounder, Keith Miller, who in reply to a question said, "I wanted to retire while people were asking why did you, rather than them saying why don't you."
Despite all the talk of consulting partners, grandmas, and other assorted gurus, retirement should be a selfish decision: it is made to satisfy only one person.
When England coach Brendon McCullum discussed Morgan's retirement with him, he said: "You'll know. It will be a feeling that just comes and hits you. Just make sure you recognise it when it comes." Morgan recognised the sign and made the correct decision.
Perhaps looking to emulate the success of captains Pat Cummins and Stokes, India appointed fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah as captain for their current Test with England. This is a courageous appointment and speaks volumes for Bumrah's on-field nous.
Like with Stokes, no one should be surprised by Cummins' success. He leads a varied attack that contains very good bowlers and he utilises them wisely. It also doesn't hurt that Nathan Lyon is a very experienced and long-time spinner.
Part of Cummins' success as captain comes from recognising Australia's ability to handle an opposition assault, and how he maintains his composure. Australia also have enough good batters to mount a challenge, and their superiority helped them demolish a weak Sri Lankan side this week. Handling opposition assaults and not spreading fields senselessly is one sure way to gain an advantage in Test cricket.
This is an area where Stokes scored over New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. Fast bowler Trent Boult was the only New Zealander who maintained a semblance of control under assault, especially from the destructive Jonny Bairstow. The fact that Williamson had a very inexperienced spinner in Michael Bracewell didn't help.
If a captain has a competitive team who believe in his methods, a lot of good things happen. The players tend to expect, and consequently produce, a good outcome.
One of the main things a player has to deal with in cricket is the strain that develops when the opposition goes on the attack. England have performed brilliantly with the bat in this aspect, and Stokes' own aggressive batting shouldn't be underestimated. While he will have to slightly temper that aggression, it has rubbed off on the other players. As the best slip fielder, being in the slips is also Stokes' best fielding position.
England have also started gradually picking their best players for a position, with wicketkeeping being a priority. However, they have to ditch the nonsensical bouncer barrages, and they need a varied bowling attack rather than an all-right-arm-seam squad. They'll also come to understand that Jack Leach is not the spinner to withstand an onslaught from the better batters.
Nevertheless, they have improved immensely under Stokes' positive guidance. While Root remains a top-class player, his captaincy, although afflicted with bad luck in regard to his faster bowlers, was going downhill fast and the team had lost faith in his tactics.
Now it remains to be seen how much Stokes' imagination and positivity can help England against a tested team. His leadership battle with Bumrah will be a fascinating sidelight to what will be an entertaining game.