Why England can look forward to a bright and promising future
Unshackled and back in the winner's enclosure, England may finally be turning a corner. And if they are to make it back to the top, it will be the exuberance of youth that guides them there.
An unhealthy dose of pessimism is a regular addition to most English conversations, closely followed by moaning and groaning. It's habitual more than anything. Perhaps it's the weather, or our lack of winning, or maybe even it's an attempt at the reverse jinx.
None of this is any different with our thoughts towards the England cricket team, where we constantly remind ourselves how much better things were years ago, and how scandalous it is that a certain player isn't in the squad - Kevin Pietersen seems to be the current flavour of the month.
Much of the criticism has been fair and England's record over the past 18 months has done little to restore a cheerful mood. But for those watching, the recent first Test against New Zealand at Lord's shone as a beacon of hope, and possibly the setting for the beginning of the revival. The trademark grit was back on Alastair Cook's face as he crafted 162, the bounce was back in Stuart Broad's footsteps and a fiery red-headed all-rounder going by the name of Ben Stokes presented a glimpse of the future.
New Zealand apparently held all the cards before the contest and their well-balanced unit looked set to cause further mayhem within the floundering England camp, especially when they snaffled four early wickets. And even at the mid-point, those gloomy predictions appeared worryingly accurate.
However, second time around, the batsmen and bowlers both delivered as England reversed a 134-run deficit to complete a 124-run victory. It was quite a remarkable comeback, and one that the crowd revelled in as much as the players did. Lord's was alive and England were too. "There's nothing like Test cricket," said many a jubilant fan.
Youth and experience combine
Like a fine red wine, it was the blend that gave it such a magnificent taste. The experienced hands and the young guns had combined to produce the win, something that bodes well for their future challenges. While Cook dug in during his nine-hour vigil, Joe Root, 24, cashed in with 84 before Stokes, 23, stormed to Lord's quickest Test hundred - in 85 balls to be precise - as England turned up the heat in the second innings. The kids had done the business and all of a sudden, New Zealand were under the pump.
The rest was history. James Anderson and Broad sent the Kiwi openers packing for ducks, Taylor fell lbw with the score on 12 and soon after that Stokes was back in the mix once more as he scripted an anecdote that will be remembered for years. Kane Williamson nicked to gully and the very next ball potential devastator Brendon McCullum had his stumps shattered in a patch of play reminiscent of Andrew Flintoff's bombarding of Jacques Kallis at Edgbaston seven years ago.
The crowd had a new hero to cherish and despite a valiant showing from New Zealand, the triumph was simply England's destiny.
Crisis? What crisis? A stirring win to open the summer was the perfect antidote for all the troubles that have plagued them. Those who were called upon to step up did so, and the seasoned players did so as well. It was a positive team effort - something that had become alien to them - and it stands them in good stead. The middle-order showed solidarity despite the failures of Ian Bell and Gary Ballance while the performance has given newcomer Adam Lyth a chance to find his feet in the Test arena.
Moeen Ali's turners made up for the lack of a genuine spinner and in the second innings at least, Stokes gave a hint of his ability with the ball, backing up his first-class endeavours. Broad also turned in a decent match, snaring six wickets. And the list goes on.
It is the youthfulness of this bunch that should leave England fans with reason to be optimistic. Root and Ballance - who in their mid-20s are primed for a decade in the middle-order - have played 26 and 12 Tests respectively, and both boast averages above 55. In fact, during their side's struggles, they are the ones the rest of the team have been indebted to. With captain Cook incredibly still only 30, the trio are likely to form the foundations of the batting lineup for a few years yet.
The search for a new Freddie has gone in earnest, and in Stokes, England have a talent that could maybe grow into the role. Granted, it's a tad audacious to be mentioning him in such company already, but more of the same and he will rapidly become a treasured asset - a competent all-rounder is much sought after these days, particularly one who can bowl pace.
The coaching situation has now been resolved as well. Peter Moores' departure was instantly recognisable at Lord's with England playing a brand of cricket that struck as being much more natural than the past conservative approach. Trevor Bayliss will pick up head coaching duties ahead of the Ashes starting in July, but until then, the side is in the safe hands of the successful Paul Farbrace. The appointment of Bayliss is a good omen for England's limited-overs cricket too, an area where they are in dire need of a revolution.
There is a cluster of talent in county cricket should he be after a more attacking game plan, Jason Roy and Sam Billings spring to mind while Alex Hales remains one of the most effective English batsmen around in white ball cricket. With the World Cup finished, there is scope for a complete overhaul and an injection of life, something Bayliss seems keen to jump start.
But it is the longest format that the country really cares about and with the Ashes speedily nearing, if England can't compile a squad of world-beaters, an XI that screams of potential would be an acceptable second best.
It was a batch of underdogs that managed to capture the hearts of a nation in 2005 when they pinched the urn so famously from Australia, and while such tales may never be recreated with quite the same magic, the British public are always more endeared to a team with fight. That fight resurfaced after a lengthy absence against New Zealand, and it might just be the catalyst to start a more permanent resurgence.
Of course, the work has barely begun. It cannot be forgotten that a month ago England drew a Test series with West Indies, a side they were expected to trample over. The topic of conversation was most active around a player (Pietersen) whose non-selection mattered more than anything else. Winning, however, can change everything. Many expected England to fold against the Black Caps, who have been on the crest of a wave for months. But they didn't. They won handsomely and received that much-needed boost.
Like Rome, great cricket teams aren't built in a day. After so much humiliation though, you can't begrudge the faithful followers their right to dream a dream. The road has been long, bumpy and has at times felt perpetual, but there looks to finally be a light at the end of England's tunnel.