Having threw dice at an untested cricket director at Rob Key, the Cricket Council of England and Wales continued to gamble. As captain, Ben Stokes has played only one first-class match, but he is a very popular and highly regarded player and has already shown encouraging confidence in his leadership and decision-making.
He may be an excellent leader of the English testing team, but my instinct was that he would benefit from having an experienced coach next to him, someone who could make sure that the weight of his work does not become too much of a burden and affect his performance. . Instead, the dice were thrown again.
Brendon McCullum knows he was the captain, and hopefully he’ll take some of the burden, even though he’s never coached a first-class team. However, his appointment is another risk, and although the potential of the new test team management will be very exciting, there are also some obvious complaints.
Andrew Strauss said in his interview that McCullum “went out of the park” and was not prone to big statements, so I have no doubt that the New Zealander was impressive. But there will be a lot of coaches, well-qualified people with experience from different teams and formats, who would wonder how someone with such a lean resume got to the role, especially given some of the people he obviously competed with.
Sometimes, as we may have seen with Key’s appointment, a decision is made not to fix himself on the credentials of a potential appointment, and it often helps to be friends with the right people. McCullum simply did not do much coaching, which is extraordinary because he gained an absolutely massive position in world cricket.
At the time of the English game, when so much seems to be in jeopardy, the test team was entrusted to people with huge potential but no experience. Strauss said it was positive that McCullum, Stokes and Key shared a vision of how they liked to play cricket. This can prove to be a huge force, but it is also true that some successful organizations deliberately choose management teams with different personalities to make sure they have all the bases covered. We all hope that these will be inspired decisions.
No matter McCullum’s coaching experience, he has the experience of taking a limited group of players and getting the most out of them, creating a game plan, getting buy-ins from the people around him and bringing results. I first ran into him, I was on my last international tour in 2002. We played a match in Queenstown and the goal was so green you couldn’t tell it from the rest of the square. It was a low score issue and he came out as a 20-year-old and played as a T20, putting together a few short but engaging shifts.
He became a prolific batsman and, over time, an excellent leader, culminating in the 2015 World Cup, where he deserved – along with some of the highly skilled pitchers the captain always needs – for introducing a different way of thinking in one-day cricket. which can be exemplary.
Eoin Morgan then took over the English team with the cue ball and tore the template from him with incredible success. As a result, most people would associate McCullum with a white ball reset and oversee a longer format.
How does his approach to short play – go out, have fun, accept the positive option – translate to Cricket Test? I have never worked with a coach who does not want to have fun, but when the third day of the match in Kolkata is 34 ° C and you have been in the field for four sessions, the game is not as fun as hard work.
There are different styles of test cricket: it can be tiring or fast, ebb and flow, you have to be focused but relaxed, the ball can sway and spin. Technique is important, as is method. You can be inspiring, you can be a great guy, create fantastic plans and blueprints, but the coach must also work patiently to improve the technique and concentration of the players.
This would not be new to McCullum, whose New Zealand side had quality shots ready to bat to get the ball shine, allowing him to get in the lower standings and play freely. And he will know, like everyone else, how well England needs players with good technique who can hit the top and put in the hard work.
The decision to move Joe Root down from position 3 opens up more space there. It always seemed that when he moved up, it was with some reluctance and McCullum would want his best players in their best positions and in their best shape.
But if Root could advance to three, it would really help the team, because they didn’t have reliable top-order launchers. Stokes’ move to six is more encouraging: it should play on his strengths and allow him to release the handbrake to be the dominant player who can grab the game.
Key, McCullum and Stokes connect with England at a low level and certainly the only way is up. Fans have realistic expectations, but will want to see young players build on their experiences and learn from their mistakes, Zak Crawley shows a little more consistency, Ollie Pope looks less anxious, the core of a successful party is coming together. If they can, improved results should follow – and then the fun begins.