Brendon McCullum breezed into Lord’s yesterday and, with almost evangelical zeal, vowed to rid England of their fear of failure and take them back to the top of the Test world.
The Kiwi, boldly chosen by Rob Key to drag England off the bottom of the World Test Championship, will look at how his great friend, Eoin Morgan, transformed English white-ball cricket and follow his example.
And McCullum, who inspired Morgan’s revolution in the first place with his own transformation of New Zealand, will be happy to take risks as he tries to convince the next generation that good old Test cricket can be as sexy as Twenty20.
Brendon McCullum has been placed in charge of turning England’s red-ball fortunes around
Managing director Rob Key has said he was very impressed by the way McCullum interviewed
McCullum is set to work alongside England’s new Test captain Ben Stokes
‘It is what we are all aspiring to do,’ said McCullum when asked if England can return to No1 in the Test rankings. ‘It will take a bit of time but we want to make sure by the Ashes next year we will be taking on the best teams in the world and are either beating them or are very difficult to beat.
‘I looked at what England have achieved in white-ball cricket and what Eoin Morgan has done is what I’m hoping to do with Ben Stokes. Why can’t the same thing happen with the Test side? Ben wants to bring about that same freedom of mindset and strip away some of the noise that comes with playing at this level. My views are aligned with his.’
It was easy to see why Key eschewed the obvious choice of South African Gary Kirsten for this job and plumped for a man with no first-class coaching experience and who, by his own admission, is no great technician. As the managing director says: ‘Man alive, he talks impressively.’
McCullum, one of the most significant figures in world cricket over the past 10 years, will focus on creating an environment that will champion New Zealand’s ‘no d***heads policy’ and let others concentrate on trigger movements.
‘My skills are not necessarily around taking a team from good to great,’ he said when asked why he did not take the more obvious route of joining up with Morgan as white-ball coach. ‘My skills lie in turning a team in a bit of trouble into one that has long-term sustainable success. If you are going to change your entire life for something, it has got to be a pretty big challenge. And opportunities like this don’t come around too often.’
McCullum believes he can make England the best Test team in the world if he is given time
McCullum spoke to former England coach Trevor Bayliss before taking the Test role
McCullum talked to both Andy Flower and Trevor Bayliss, as outsiders with considerable success in coaching England, before hot-footing it from the Indian Premier League and Kolkata Knight Riders to start preparing for next week’s first Test against New Zealand.
‘Both Andy and TB were similar in their view that you’ve got to take pressure away from these guys,’ he said. ‘Maybe that’s the thing with coming in from overseas. You can try to bring in a more simplified method.
‘I can look at things with a different lens. I see guys who are maybe stuck with the fear of failure rather than the possibility of success. If we can take away some of the stuff that sits on the outside and brings baggage, then talent will come to the fore.’
It did seem odd to see a man so synonymous with New Zealand’s rise to the top of the red and white-ball world sitting in an England tracksuit top in the ECB boardroom at Lord’s. Not least because he will be in opposition to his countrymen back here next week. ‘I am a staunch Kiwi,’ said McCullum. ‘I’m very proud of my heritage and what I’ve achieved for my country. I’ve invested a lot of my life in trying to perform for New Zealand and I feel I left their camp in a better position than when I took over as captain.
‘I’ll continue to look out for a lot of the guys I’ve shared experiences with, but this is a job where you’re being tasked with trying to bring about change and hopefully do something that lasts a long time into the future. That’s a pretty enticing opportunity.’
Selection for the first of three Tests against the world champions was a little on the conservative side considering what McCullum hopes to bring to England. But, he admitted, he listened to the advice of others rather than trying to make a big opening statement.
McCullum has brought fast bowlers Stuart Broad and James Anderson back into the fold
‘I picked Stokes, Root, Broad and Anderson,’ smiled McCullum when asked about his first selectorial input. ‘No, I don’t have intricate knowledge of the players the other guys have so I respectfully kind of sat back a little bit.
‘It’s not a massive difference yet to the team that played previously but there are a couple of subtle changes there which may be a sign of how we want to play the game.
‘For instance, there’s risk in playing Ollie Pope at three but all the guys in and around the side talk about how good he is and his potential. Let’s see it in a position that’s been difficult for the side. If he nails it, the middle order looks very, very good.’
Above everything, McCullum knows that a successful England Test side is paramount to the future of a vulnerable old format he still insists is the most important.
Ollie Pope is set to bat at No. 3 against New Zealand, which McCullum admits is a risk
‘We are all honest enough to look at Test cricket and say it’s not maybe as popular as it once was,’ he added. ‘T20 and franchise cricket have given me a great life and I’m forever grateful for that. But for me Test cricket is and always has been the pinnacle.
‘A lot of people in the sport now look purely at T20 but wouldn’t it be great if, in a couple of years, the next wave of youngsters coming through make Test cricket their No1 priority. Not just because the format’s appealing but the personalities involved are good role models and it looks like a fun game. And if Test cricket is going to survive and thrive, England have to be at the top of the tree.’
It is McCullum’s mission to take them there. With a lot of fun along the way.