Brendon McCullum aims for the top as England’s Test overhaul begins

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 (PA)
(PA)

Brendon McCullum outlined his aims to take England to the top of the Test rankings after being unveiled at Lord’s today — but admits the team’s fortunes will not change overnight.

McCullum was appointed as Test head coach earlier this month and arrived in the country yesterday, having completed his previous coaching job with Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL.

His first Test in charge comes on Thursday, against his former team New Zealand at Lord’s.

McCullum arrives with England’s men’s cricket department going through a period of unprecedented overhaul in the midst of a dismal run of Test results that has seen them win just one of their last 17. Included in that run are the 4-0 Ashes clobbering Down Under this winter and defeat in the West Indies in March. England are bottom of the World Test Championship and seventh in the ICC rankings, their lowest rating this century.

After the Ashes debacle, managing director Ashley Giles and head coach Chris Silverwood were fired, then Joe Root resigned as skipper after the Caribbean tour.

Rob Key was brought in as managing director and has been decisive, promptly installing Ben Stokes as Test captain and hiring his two coaches: McCullum and Australian Matthew Mott, who will lead the white-ball teams.

Key has made clear his intention to hire a national selector — a role made redundant by Giles last year when he sacked Ed Smith — but is currently overseeing selection himself while he identifies the right character for the job.

While the rebuild is clearly underway, the fact that CEO Tom Harrison is on the way out and the ECB have not had a chair since Ian Watmore’s departure in October means McCullum joins an organisation with more than a whiff of disarray.

But McCullum believes that the potential is there for England to get back to the top of the rankings.

“It’s going to take time,” he said. “Trying to get these guys, who have an immense amount of talent, playing to their potential, playing for one another, be a good representation of England. Hopefully, we will be able to achieve some good stuff along the way. Certainly, in time we can get to No1, challenge for the Ashes and be up there when talking about the best teams in the world. We have a long way to go.”

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

McCullum has never coached a red-ball team, but was labelled “one of the best managers in the world” by white-ball captain Eoin Morgan in an interview with Standard Sport earlier this week. Since his final game in 2019, McCullum has coached exclusively with the Knight Riders franchise on the T20 circuit: with Trinbago in the Caribbean Premier League (where he won one title) and Kolkata in the IPL (he reached the final last year).

Nevertheless, Key believes McCullum can set England on the right path, as he did with New Zealand as captain between 2012 and 2016. The team he built reached the 50-over World Cup Final in 2015 and 2019, the T20 World Cup Final in 2021, and won the inaugural World Test Championship last year, which is a reminder of the scale of the task England face next week. The 40-year-old, who played 101 Tests and scored the Black Caps’ first triple-century, believes that this role is a “bigger scale” than the New Zealand job, and says he will not be a technical coach and promises “positive cricket”.

“The last year and a half has been trying for this side and the people involved,” he says. “My job instantly is trying to free them up.

“I certainly don’t coach technically. I understand technique, obviously, but for me it’s more about tactics and man management, providing the right environment to make the guys the best versions of themselves. In Stokesy, we have a strong leader, a follow-me kind of captain. My job will be to ensure we are consistent with our messaging, look after guys and allow them to grow.

“We will be positive. You have a natural speed you travel at with Stokes as captain. With me as coach, I will be trying to ensure the guys play their best games.”

McCullum said that part of the motivation for taking the job was to give Test cricket a shot in the arm. “I played a lot of white-ball cricket as well as red-ball cricket, and Test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport for me,” he said. “If you look where the game sits around the world, it’s probably on a slightly downward trend. One nation that can really change things is England, with the tradition and the fan following. For us to be competitive can shift the perception.”

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