It’s safe to say that Brendon McCullum, the vibes guru with his keep-calm-and-storm-on mantra and homilies as ‘run towards danger’, the man who blasts power ballads in the dressing room during match-time, has been a box-office hit in England. In particular, with the England players. Seldom has a coach seen such overwhelming raves after just four Tests. The Indian Express looks at comments from England’s players on McCullum from the start of his reign in the Tests against New Zealand.
Never experienced anything like it: Jack Leach
The hammering at the Ashes series had left him bruised and low on confidence. As soon as he took up the role, McCullum had even called up Mooen Ali to reconsider his international retirement from Tests. But in the background, McCullum and Ben Stokes have been working on injecting the left-arm spinner with a booster vaccination against self doubts.
“You realise teams I have played in, the way I have thought, a lot of decisions are made around negativity. A lot of four or five-day games you give up on the win quite early, but now it feels like you are always pushing for that win, so there is never really too bad a situation. My biggest thing is having belief in myself, and that is what Ben and Baz have helped me with. It is very special to be a part of, and that is credit to Stokesy and Baz [McCullum] for setting that up. Under Stokes] it’s really attacking, and I am really enjoying bowling attackingly. Stokesy’s confidence in his decisions but also in us as players – I have never experienced anything like it. I say what about mid-on back and he says nope!”
This is the first time I’ve felt like I can be a No 3: Ollie Pope
The Ashes debacle had left Pope unsure about his place in the team, and the self-doubts accentuated after he was left out of the series in West Indies. Former England players had called his batting “panicky” and that he finds ways to get himself out.
“I was down in Cornwall having a few days away on the coast when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognise. It was Baz (McCullum) on the phone. I wasn’t expecting amazing news at the time, but he said ‘you’re going to be in the squad’. I remember having a little celebration with my dog – I think I gave her a first bump – and then he said ‘you’re going to bat three as well. That’s allowed me to play my game and given me a bit more confidence. I’ve started seeing everything in a bit more of a positive light because that’s what I do for Surrey and it’s what has brought me a lot of success. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed so far. Whatever you call it, the red-ball reset or whatever, I’m loving every minute of it. This is the first time I’ve felt like I can be a No 3 in red-ball cricket.
You go to bed in a completely different mindset: James Anderson
He was miffed when he was dropped from the series in West Indies and his future hung in balance when McCullum came on.
“There’s been a good vibe. I have enjoyed the positivity. We could have been ‘oh they’ve got a big partnership going, two guys nearing a hundred’ and you could feel down about it. But when the coach sends you home by saying he’s excited, you go to bed in a completely different mindset. I have never been in a dressing room before when we have chased 300 on a pitch that is turning and everyone has been so calm, believing we were going to chase them down. That for me, after 20 years of playing international cricket, I had never seen before … As a bowler, I don’t want to think of someone coming at me like that. The confidence our batters have got at the moment, they’re fearless.That belief can go such a long way especially with the young players we have got. Trying to develop their confidence and experience, that will do wonders for them.”
McCullum is a great character: Zak Crawley
The opener whose technique was constantly shredded on air, and the one who English media said would be the real challenge for McCullum was hanging on a thin thread when the new coach began to talk him up. He responded with an aggressive fifty in the epic run chase.
“I’m excited about Brendon McCullum. I love watching him play and I’m going to love working with him as a coach. He might suit me actually, quite a positive coach, He’s obviously a great character in the sport, and I’m looking forward to it. At the end of the series against New Zealand McCullum had said: To me Crawley is a rare talent and I don’t think there’s too many people in world cricket that can play like he does. When I first came in and saw him play in the nets and watched some of his old innings and some of the footage to get an understanding of him as a player, it pretty quickly stood out that he’s got something other players don’t have.
“So my message was: ‘There’s 10,000 players out there that can play the other way. There’s only a handful that can play like you do. So go and be the best version of yourself’. And I’ll keep trying to encourage him to do that.And the other thing is to chase great moments. He’s never going to be a consistent type of cricketer. He’s that dynamic that he’s not going to be consistent. But when he has his day, he’s going to win matches. And we’ve just got to make sure he’s courageous enough to keep stepping up even if things haven’t necessarily gone that well. But I’ve got confidence in him for sure.”
A cricket brain working all the time: Stuart Broad
Like Anderson, Broad was left in the cold for the tour of West Indies. Like Anderson, he wasn’t sure about his future. Now he is back being the enforcer and the night-hawk (as opposed to night-watchman); he was padded up on Day 4 of the India Test and told to go have a bash in case a wicket fell.
“McCullum looks like a guy who has a cricket brain that is working all the time, he’s thinking how we can change the game. It’s not just praising guys who get a hundred, it’s tiny little things, bits of fielding, momentum changes in the game. He will bring attention to that.It does feel really fresh and exciting in the changing room. It’s a very positive language. It’s very forward-thinking, all about how to move this game forward.
“This is no dig but at tea (in the Test against New Zealand), when we were four down with the game in the balance slightly, I’ve certainly been in changing rooms in the past where that would be shut up shop time.
“Baz’s team talk was very much ‘let’s attack the danger; let’s run towards the danger’ so every part of your mind is about going for this win. I don’t think he’s spoken particularly deeply, his whole mantra is about enjoyment and fun. The energy is: How good’s Test cricket? How good’s this ground? What can we get out of today?”
I wanted to hit Jadeja for a six first ball: Alex Lees
The left-handed opener hadn’t yet cemented his spot when McCullum came along. There were even murmurs about calling back Jos Buttler and making him open in case Lees and Crawley keep failing. Lees starred in the run chase against India, and charged out first ball to Ravindra Jadeja to smash him down the ground.
“The backing from Ben [Stokes] and Baz [McCullum] has accelerated that aggressive intent and the manner in which I am playing. If I am honest, I wanted to hit him [Jadeja] for six first ball but yorked myself! There is no great science. I just tried to hit the ball where the fielders weren’t. I just wanted to try and give it a good whack, to be honest. The numbers are still not where I would like them to be. I want to score big hundreds – that is my role as an opening batter.”
We are still heading into the unknown: Joe Root
He has reduced the debate over Fab Four (Root, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson) to Fab One. No one has any doubts about his batting but the question remained how he would take the sacking from captaincy and all the talk of fresh new approach – that invariably contrasts itself to the team attitude under him in the past. Will he sulk or will he rise with the McCullum tide?
“The Yorkshireman inside me is still saying ‘dig in, play straight and get behind it’. Then there’s the captain on my shoulder saying ‘be a rock star’. So you’re fighting between the two of them, sometimes.
“Ben (McCullum) has wanted us to be entertainers, he’s mentioned trying to be ‘rock stars’ on the field. It’s just about trying to have fun and really relish every opportunity you get to go and showcase what you’re about and, you know, put on a show for everyone. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to feel or look like a rock star, but for 10 seconds I might have done today (laughter). That was what the little pinky was about. Ben watched the Elvis Presley film the other day, and he’s been doing that all week, so it’s a little tribute to him.
“Hopefully we’re still heading into the unknown and there’s more to come. We’ve just got to keep trusting and believing in what we’re doing. It’s been an amazing four or so weeks and I feel like there’s potential there for still a lot more as well, which is very exciting.”
McCullum has changed the way I look at Test cricket: Ben Foakes
Hailed by the likes of Kumar Sangakkara as the “best wicketkeeper in the world”, Foakes couldn’t find a place in the Test due to the presence of Buttler. And he had a lot of doubts about his approach to the game when McCullum took over.
” I had a few questions and didn’t want to be too indecisive and not know how I am meant to be playing. [McCullum] has been really clear with the doubts I had and it was good for me to be open with him. It has changed the way I look at Test cricket. With playing for England there are obviously a lot of pressures, a lot of criticism, and if you think about that too much it weighs on you. But over the last two weeks it’s clear to see how amazing playing for England can be.
“Groundbreaking ‘is too strong a term for it, but when I think about it my approach to Test cricket has always been about endurance and meant to be calculated. ‘When you play for England there’s another side to it — the entertainment factor. It’s a really fun time to be involved.
“Baz’s team talked at tea [in the third Test against New Zealand] – it was like William Wallace! After he was done, everyone was desperate to get out there. The traditional Test approach in that situation would be ‘see how it goes, see how many wickets we’ve got left, then if the situation isn’t there, do we shut up shop?’ He was like, ‘Nah, we’re not doing that. We’re winning this game. If we don’t, so be it – we’ve done it the right way. It doesn’t matter if we don’t win this game.’ And it took the pressure off.”
Phone call with McCullum would live with me forever: Craig Overton.
The bowler in form in county cricket where he plays with Stokes wasn’t sure whether he would get a call-up to the England team. A slew of injuries to Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, and Jofra Archer and the decision to rest Anderson got him a recall for the third Test against New Zealand
“I saw a missed call and a text on my phone. It was McCullum asking me to call back. That call will live with me forever. It’s been some week, topped off by a very nice phone call. Another followed, a few minutes later, from Ben Stokes, who said he “wants me to do exactly what I do for Surrey.”
All he told me was to go and impose yourself: Jonny Bairstow
Tired of being shunted up and down the order, frustrated by the wicketkeeping gloves taken off, Bairstow hasn’t been all that happy in the recent years. He needed someone to take the pressure off him, and tell him to be himself.
“The most important thing is me being me. Literally all Brendon [McCullum] has said is ‘go and impose yourself on the game’. It’s an exciting game and the way I’ve always played my cricket. I’ve gone back to young Jonny, where you’re just watching the ball and seeing the ball.”
“Fancy doing another Trent Bridge?’ was the first thing that we said [when Stokes joined him for the chase in the third Test against New Zealand] That was it: ‘OK, let’s crack on’. Sometimes it’s a simple game that we complicate. That’s all we’re trying to do: strip that complicated nature of it back, allow people to go out and express themselves in a way that will bring the best out of them as individuals and also as personalities.”
Great human being: Sam Billings
When Foakes was laid low by Covid-19, Billings got his chance to play the India Test. He already knew McCullum well from his time with KKR in the IPL. Needless to say, he was already sold on Bazball.
“It was funny because at the time [When Root resigned and Stokes was yet to be appointed as the successor] I think I was the second favourite for the job. I literally had Baz McCullum, Pat Cummins and Tim Southee taking the mickey out of me the whole time, Billings to Metro.co.uk. “Above all McCullum’s a great human being. Combine that with the fact he’s done everything you can do in the game and you’ve got a pretty good mix for a job like this. I’m not surprised at the impact he’s had already. He will be a phenomenal addition to English cricket and there’s no doubt he’s the right man to help the team evolve.”
We want to create a Test cricket legacy: Ben Stokes
It must have felt like a perfect match when he would have heard about McCullum’s appointment. A coach with a similar mindset could have only helped. In fact McCullum has already said how Stokes is more aggressive and positive than him.
“The first chat with Baz [McCullum] was: ‘Yeah we can do it this way – why not?’[about having players assemble just 30 minutes before start instead of lengthy warm-ups]. As long as everyone goes out there at 11am – or 10.30am this last game – and is comfortable in knowing that their preparation has been done in the way they want as individuals to go out and perform, then why wouldn’t you do it like that?
“The warmup thing was me saying: ‘Why are we going to warmup when we’re batting? What is the point of doing a few run-throughs to go up and sit in my training kit again? It has taken away all the external pressures that playing international sport gives you.
“I think a better word is positive. Looking at every situation we are going to find ourselves in and always looking at what the positive thing to do is. For example [on day four at Edgbaston] we renamed what nightwatchman is all about. We called it ‘Nighthawk’. That was Broady. He was going out with half an hour left to play to try to literally slog. That’s where we are at the moment: it’s awesome.
“We want to create a legacy of Test cricket. We have done that in white-ball cricket and we have seen other teams follow in those footsteps.”