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Five things we learned from Brendon McCullum’s unveiling as England’s new Test coach

by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

Brendon McCullum was unveiled as England’s new men’s Test head coach at Lord’s on Friday, speaking to the press less than a week out from the start of his first assignment: a three-match series against New Zealand, the side he represented 101 times in Test cricket.

Here are some of the key messages he outlined when speaking to the written press.

Moving Ollie Pope to No.3 is a risk worth taking

It has been confirmed that Ollie Pope will bat at No.3 in the first Test of the summer, something the highly rated youngster has never done in his first-class career before now. McCullum understands that this is a risk, but thinks the potential “upside” means it is a punt worth a try.

“There’s risk with it, but everyone that’s been around English cricket, all the guys in the side, they talk about how good a player this guy is, and what his potential is,” he said. “We’re giving him the opportunity in a position which has been difficult. If he’s able to nail it then your middle order looks very, very good.

“Any time you introduce a player into a slightly unfamiliar role it comes with risks. You’ve got to look at what’s the upside, and the upside is, if he’s able to nail a position like that, then one of the biggest challenges of the last 12-18 months becomes taken care of.”

The Ben Stokes relationship will be crucial

McCullum won’t be the only person newly in a leadership role come the start of the New Zealand series, with Ben Stokes England’s new Test captain. Both favour positive, no-fear cricket, and McCullum acknowledged the importance of their relationship going forwards.

“I think a captain/coach relationship in cricket is vital and there needs to be a really tight bond there. You don’t have to be the best of mates but you have to have a real clear vision of where you want the team to go and you both align with that. When you have that, then you can try and fill the gaps. It’s my job as a coach to fill the gaps for Stokesy. I want him to be the most authentic person that he can be and lead the way that he wants to. There will be times where I might have to pull him back and times when I might have to push him forward.”

Being No.1 again is the aim, but it will take time

For a brief spell a decade ago, England were the No.1 Test side in the world, an ascension confirmed after beating India comprehensively at home in 2011. With one win in their last 17 Tests, they have rarely felt further from the summit. However, McCullum is hoping to take England back to top spot, even if it will take a while.

“That’s what we’re all aspiring to do,” he said. “It’s going to take a bit of time. We should hopefully get a natural uplift in results straight away. New Zealand’s a good cricket team but if we play properly we’ll give ourselves a good chance. Over time you’re obviously wanting to try and make sure that you’re highly competitive come the Ashes, taking on the best teams in the world and you’re either winning those series or you’re very difficult to be beaten.”

McCullum has a very particular set of skills, and those are suited to the England Test job, not the white-ball one.

The ex-New Zealand captain has been credited with inspiring England’s white-ball resurgence after the 2015 World Cup; his own side reached the final of that tournament with an aggressive style of play. Despite that influence, McCullum explained why he felt he was better suited to the Test job.

“They’re [the white-ball teams] already good,” he said. “I think my skills aren’t necessarily around taking a team from good to great. My skills are around taking a team from being in a bit of trouble to hopefully building something which has long-term sustained success. That’s what I believe.”

Save England and it’ll be to Test cricket’s benefit

McCullum explained how he felt England’s success and Test cricket’s relevance were inextricably tied together.

“Whilst T20 cricket and franchise cricket has given me a great life and I’ve earned a good living out of it, and I’m forever grateful for that, Test cricket for me was always the pinnacle of the sport,” he said. “I think a lot of people are now coming into the sport and they’re looking purely at T20 cricket. Wouldn’t it be great if in a couple of years’ time, if we got this thing right, and you had that next wave of youngsters coming through and they want to play Test cricket as their No.1 priority because it’s not just the game that’s appealing, but the personalities involved in it are good role models and it looks like a fun game to play?

“If Test cricket is going to survive and thrive then England has to be at the top of the tree. If the Ashes isn’t competitive or if England aren’t vying for number-one positions then Test cricket is in trouble, I think, because of the support that the people of the UK have for Test cricket – no one else really has the same affection or the ability to make the game sustain.”

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