Trailblazer Brendon McCullum is in no rush to lead England revolution


Brendon McCullum is set to take charge of England’s struggling Test team (Picture: Getty)

When the leadership combination of Ben Stokes, Brendon McCullum and Rob Key, as captain, coach and team director of England’s men’s Test team, was formed, it felt like revolution might be in the air.

One Test squad later and that feeling has dwindled to one of evolution at best, with the only two fresh faces selected unlikely to make the final eleven at Lord’s next week.

Hopefully, this feeling of ‘same old, same old’ is temporary — at least until McCullum, a man with no red-ball coaching experience but an approach to cricket red in tooth and claw, can better assess those in the frame for selection. A trailblazer in white-ball cricket, where data analysis rules, McCullum nevertheless prizes players who buy into his philosophies about team and approach — cricketers he tends to identify by judgment and not statistics.

Ben Stokes will captain England’s Test team after taking over from Joe Root (Picture: Getty)

Discovering who those players are will take time but it must be better than the crude, and so far unsuccessful, trial and error which has seen England use 13 players over the past 15 months to fill five of the top seven batting spots not taken by Stokes or departing captain Joe Root.

Aside from the turmoil, which has resulted in the team winning just one of its last 17 Tests, the real failure here is we are still none the wiser as to who the best options might be. Typically, in times of despondency, county cricket takes the blame, principally for not producing enough players ready to make the step-up to Test cricket — a point aired regularly over the last 50 years. County cricket’s culpability is not absolute, due to the way the fixture list is designed, but McCullum will have his ideas how to remedy any shortcomings though they will not happen overnight.

Meanwhile, in his Test squad, he has Harry Brook and Matty Potts, two young men dominating county cricket this season with bat and ball respectively, by which to gauge talent levels around the shires.

Although neither is likely to face New Zealand next week they are the form picks. Brook, 23, is a confident, multi-format player similar to McCullum in his ability to flit between red and white-ball cricket without too much upheaval to mindset or batting technique. His 840 runs in the Championship for Yorkshire, come at an average of 140 and include three hundreds. He is mightily consistent having passed 50 in eight of his nine innings this season.

Joe Root will now be able to focus on his batting after relinquishing the England captaincy

Joe Root will now be able to focus on his batting after relinquishing the England captaincy (Picture: Getty)

Potts, also 23, is a robust, right-arm pace bowler whose accuracy forces batsmen into making errors. His 35 wickets at 18.5 for Durham have come on early season pitches in the second division, but he has been garnering plaudits for a while. Both players have quirks that could compromise them at Test level — Brook’s batting stance with its open front foot and Potts’ wide angle of delivery — but, tellingly, both appear to fit the McCullum desire for good, strong characters. Those who follow Surrey say Ollie Pope, 24, is also in the strong character category though with 23 Tests to his name already, he must now deliver. Having never before batted at three the decision to put him there does smack of ‘last-chance saloon’.

Hopefully, McCullum can unlock the potential suggested by Pope’s consistent high scoring in county cricket and a solution to a position which has been problematic since Jonathan Trott vacated it nine years ago, can be found. Two other batsmen McCullum needs to influence are the openers, Alex Lees and Zak Crawley. The pair are chalk and cheese; Lees being left-handed, dour and risk-averse; Crawley right-handed, dashing and gung-ho. If they could lend the other a portion of themselves a more fruitful partnership might result.

McCullum’s attitude to bowlers, at least as a batsmen, was to pay them no respect whatsoever, though that is unlikely to be his approach as coach. He will welcome back James Anderson and Stuart Broad, both eager to please their new coach and captain after being left off the tour to West Indies.

It is easy to believe, when you have taken 1,177 Test wickets between you, as they have, that you are an automatic pick. Yet the reality is that if England had every bowler who’d played in the last two years fit at present (six were not available for selection due to injury) then only one of Anderson and Broad would play next week.

Don’t believe me? Well, Ollie Robinson (too many ailments to list) out-bowled both last summer while Mark Wood (elbow operation) was the England bowler the Aussies least liked to face during the recent Ashes. Then of course there is Jofra Archer (stress fracture in lower back) who would play every game on pace and potential alone. But therein lies the big lesson of bowling, you have to be fit to do it and Anderson and Broad have the big plus of having stayed fit for most of their careers.

Finally, McCullum (above) needs to get the best out of Stokes, whose cricket has been subdued for much of the past year. Captaincy should give him a boost, at least initially, but together the pair need to get those players associated with recent failures — the Ashes mauling and the careless defeat in West Indies — playing with verve and confidence again.

As a cricketer McCullum was ultra aggressive, though that was offset by a laid-back folksy wisdom off the pitch. It is an intriguing combination and one that will hopefully get England back to winning ways and the rest of us falling back in love with Test cricket again.

MORE : Ian Botham gives verdict on Ben Stokes replacing Joe Root as England Test captain

MORE : Joe Root sends message to new England Test captain Ben Stokes: ‘I’ll be with you every step of the way’

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