Brendon McCullum: Can new coach change English cricket again?

Ben Stokes & Brendon McCullum
New captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum will lead England in the first Test against New Zealand on Thursday
Venue: Lord’s Dates: 2-6 June
Coverage: Daily highlights on BBC Two and iPlayer. Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW, online, tablets, mobiles and BBC Sport app. Live text commentary and clips on the BBC Sport website and app.

Brendon McCullum has changed English cricket once. Now he’s being paid to do it again.

Previously, it was inadvertent. His batting, captaincy and the New Zealand team he led to the final of the 2015 World Cup formed the inspiration for England’s turnaround from one-day no-hopers to world champions in the space of four years.

This time, McCullum’s influence will come from inside the dressing room – his task to revive a Test side that have been battered and bruised to the tune of one win in 17 matches.

At a stroke, his appointment made England trendy again. Not only through the excitement of what a McCullum-led outfit might actually play like against his native New Zealand on Thursday, but also because he is the first coach to turn up at Lord’s with rolled-up jeans revealing bare ankles and no socks.

By his own admission, the 40-year-old has given up a “good life” in order to answer England’s call, following coaching gigs in the Indian and Caribbean Premier Leagues, TV punditry and a breakfast radio show back home in New Zealand.

But it was the England white-ball revolution under his great mate Eoin Morgan – and the possibility of doing something similar with the Test team – that enticed McCullum’s “grunty” aspirations.

“I reckon that was half the reason I took the job,” he said. “It could be done with the white-ball side so why can’t it be done with the Test side?”

To think of McCullum the player is to remember the maniac sprinting down the pitch to the world’s fastest bowlers, carving the ball over extra cover for six.

Yes, he was a cavalier presence at the top of the order in limited-overs cricket, but he is also one of the most innovative captains of the modern era and the owner of a Test triple century.

He united a New Zealand team, despite the controversy of the way he assumed the captaincy from Ross Taylorexternal-link, setting the Black Caps on the way to becoming world Test champions last year.

Current vice-captain Tom Latham said they are still benefitting from McCullum’s influence despite him not having played for them since 2016.

McCullum’s New Zealand won matches playing in a style that allowed their cricket to do the talking. There was no sledging, no arrogance and no egos. It was an approach that still managed to wind up the Australians.

“They were that nice to us, it was uncomfortable,” former Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin once said.

The importance of the spirit of the game is something McCullum looks set to impress on England.

“I don’t see the need to play in any other way,” he said last week. “There is a mutual respect that should be across all teams. You still play hard on the field, but there are certain lines you don’t need to cross.”

On top of the nice guy attitude, it will be the task of McCullum and new captain Ben Stokes to find an identity for an England team that has suffered cricketing anonymity for too long.

Under the previous regime, coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root talked of scoring “big first-innings runs” as if they had just invented fire.

For all his qualities as a batter and an even better human being, Root too often took leave of his tactical senses, something Stokes should be able to avoid with McCullum’s 31 Tests as a captain in his corner.

“It’s not rocket science,” added McCullum. “You’re trying to take wickets with the ball and shift pressure with the bat. It’s not an overly extravagant gameplan – it’s got some nice simplicity to it.”

Those who know McCullum speak of a modest and humble character – he has frequently talked about removing “pressure” from the players.

“It’s just allowing the guys to be able to make good decisions because they’re in a clear frame of mind and a positive environment,” he said.

It’s a philosophy he has used away from the dressing room too.

Once, when McCullum was commentating for New Zealand TV on the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan, he was given some information from an inexperienced statistician that the Black Caps would go to the top of the world rankings with victory.

At the winning moment, with McCullum proclaiming the ascent on the microphone, the stats guy realised his mistake.

When he confessed, rather than McCullum erupting, as plenty of other commentators might do, he simply said: “Don’t worry about it mate, I was the one behind the mic” – and cracked open a beer.

Much has been made of the fact McCullum has never coached a first-class team. That should be mitigated by his 101 Tests as a player, but it is also worth remembering Andy Flower, the coach who took England to number one in the world, had never previously been a head coach in first-class cricket either.

In appointing a New Zealander, England have once again looked overseas for their Test coach. The only Englishmen to do the job since 1999 are Peter Moores (twice) and Silverwood. For whatever reason, they are also the only England coaches to have unquestionably failed in that time too.

Zimbabweans Flower and Duncan Fletcher each delivered the Ashes, while Australian Trevor Bayliss won the urn and the 2019 World Cup.

“Maybe that’s the thing with being from overseas, you can bring that simplified method in, rather than maybe if you are English, you’re probably a little bit more involved in the whole thing throughout,” added McCullum, who has consulted both Flower and Bayliss on the best way to go about the England job.

“Maybe it’s a coincidence, but we’ll find out. I might be terrible.”

One certainty is that, for the first time, England have a coach who has a profile at least as high, if not higher than the majority of the players.

Fletcher and Bayliss may have been just as undemonstrative – and Flower had a comparably successful playing career – but none had McCullum’s star quality. It is the exact opposite of Silverwood, who gave nothing away in the media and would not have been recognised buying a pair of pyjamas in Marks & Spencer.

That does little to aid McCullum’s chances of succeeding, but at least he will be working with players who are likely to respect him as a formidable former opponent or grew up being wowed by watching him perform.

Similarly, if there are some supporters who do not believe McCullum is the right fit to reinvigorate the Test side, most will agree his arrival adds a much-needed dollop of intrigue to watching England – an exercise that has become predictably painful over the past year and a bit.

“My skills are around taking a team from a bit of trouble into a team that has long-term sustainable success,” he said.

“You are not always going to achieve it. If you are going to change your entire life for something, it has got to be a pretty big challenge.”

Can McCullum change English cricket all over again?

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