Brendon McCullum signed off from a transformative first summer as England’s Test head coach with a shrug about “not doing a lot” and a reminder the last two openers to score mountains of runs have since been knighted.
The New Zealander claimed to not initially want the job in May when Rob Key, the director of England men’s cricket, plucked him from the franchise circuit and paired him with the captaincy of Ben Stokes. A flatlining dressing room, Key decided before his own appointment a month earlier, needed an urgent jolt of positivity.
Six wins from seven Tests have followed but, perhaps more importantly, a previously absent identity has formed. McCullum also said a number of previous “question marks” about the side have also since received “a big tick”, citing Ollie Pope’s move to No 3, Jack Leach’s 10-wicket Test in Leeds and Ben Foakes with bat in hand.
Among the various tenets has been loyalty, something tested by Alex Lees and Zak Crawley when they produced rapid century stands in two of the five successful run chases but little in between. McCullum opted to reference what has been a hardy perennial since the retirements of Andrew Strauss (in 2012) and Alastair Cook (2018).
After the 2-1 win over South Africa he said: “We’re very quick to judge sometimes some of the things that aren’t working as well. These are tough cricket wickets, really tough. The last two guys who nailed it at the top of the order are both called ‘Sir’ in this country, so it’s not an easy thing to do.
“We’ve got to allow these guys the time and opportunity to develop. You spend your [time] as a selector, as a coach or a captain trying to catch form, you make things very difficult. You’ve got to give them an extended period and allow that talent to come out.”
The pair’s averages for the summer – Crawley 23, Lees 25 – are just above the aggregate of 22 for the visiting openers but McCullum was also keen to stress there is talent in the wings. Keaton Jennings, who has scored two Test centuries in Asia, and Ben Duckett, in the squad for the Oval Test, will be among those discussed for Pakistan in December, having both featured for the Lions this season.
Mark Wood could add pace and reverse swing to the attack after telling TalkSport about his recent speeds since elbow surgery, while bolstering the spin department – Moeen Ali, perhaps – is inevitable.
However, McCullum said he “hadn’t really thought” about a squad that is expected to be selected next month. Instead, the 40-year-old wanted to focus on the achievements of a summer that was “a resounding success” and marvel at the captaincy of Stokes by way of clarity and communication. Part of this has been the husbandry of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, reinvigorated after the nonsense of their omission in the Caribbean in March.
“Yeah, they’ll be here,” said a smiling McCullum as regards next summer’s Ashes, before following Stokes in elaborating on their tactical influence behind the scenes. “The effort and the confidence they’re giving the other guys is quite remarkable.”
And his own input? “I don’t really do a lot, to be honest. I just let the guys do what they’re born to do – play cricket in the style and manner they want and try to bring the group together and make sure they’re enjoying themselves.
“You start off as a kid and [cricket] is so much fun and you get thrust into the bright lights and the big cities and the expectations are thrown on you, the enjoyment can go out of the game and it can start to lead to negativity seeping in.
“My job is to ensure that we’re always reminding ourselves that this job is meant to be the greatest time of our life, being a cricketer at the highest level and trying to create memories you look back over in time. That’s the results, but it’s also the fun and the camaraderie that you build up. It seems to be working at the moment, but we’ll see.”
McCullum will return to New Zealand as England’s Twenty20 squad fly to Pakistan ton Wednesday evening for a seven-match series. Matthew Mott, the white-ball head coach, has hired David Saker as bowling coach, with Mike Hussey – erroneously reported as his brother, Dave, last week – joining the setup for October’s World Cup.