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In preparation for his role as England’s Test Head Coach, Brendon McCullum has spoken to Andy Flower and Trevor Bayliss, two of his predecessors from overseas and has concluded that his job is to take pressure off players who fear failure.
In the era of Test teams having coaches, England’s best periods have tended to come under the stewardship of foreign coaches.
Duncan Fletcher led them to the Ashes in 2005, for the first time in a generation, while Flower took them to victory in Australia and India, as well as to the top of the rankings. Most of Bayliss’s successes were in white-ball cricket, but England were a better Test side under him than the one McCullum has inherited.
“It’s funny how that’s worked out,” said McCullum. "I’ve spoken to both Andy and also TB in a little bit of depth about the challenge and what it entails, and both were pretty similar in their views that you’ve just got to try and take pressure away from the guys.
“Maybe with being overseas, you can maybe identify that and go about trying to bring that simplified method in, rather than maybe if you are English, you’re probably a little bit more involved in the whole thing throughout. I don’t know, maybe it’s a coincidence, but we’ll find out. I might be terrible! I might change things completely. We’ll see how we go.”
McCullum believes a fear of failure has developed in England’s side in the course of the pandemic, when they lived in suffocating bubbles. He takes over at the start of what should be a more normal summer.
“I think the bubbles were difficult for them,” he said. "I think the pandemic was challenging for a lot of people, and when you lose one or two games that can snowball.
"So I sort of look at it with a bit of a different kind of lens. I see guys who are maybe just a little bit stuck by the fear of failure rather than the possibility of success.
“My first job is to try to bring a real fresh kind of approach and a relaxed kind of style simplifies things somewhat. Strip away some of the stuff that sits on the outside that doesn’t really matter but can affect you as a person and you carry as baggage onto the field, and keep things as relaxed as possible.
“If we can do that, talent can come to the fore. it’s not about finding someone who’s got a better cover drive or a better hook shot, it’s just allowing the guys to be able to make good decisions because they’re in a clear frame of mind and a positive environment.
Asked if the fear of failure was part of the English psyche, McCullum said: “Everyone’s got it to a degree but it’s probably just a little more English than others.
“That’s one of the beauties of it because that’s where a lot of my skills are, that you can take a lot of those pressures off people.
“It’s not going to be easy, I understand that, and there’ll be some guys that get there quicker than others. But one thing I can guarantee is that when you do get to that state where you’re playing the game for the game’s sake, because you enjoy it and you’re invested in it, you immerse yourself in that moment, cricket’s a great game to play.
“It’s not a great game when you’re worried about all the other stuff which goes on. That’ll be the message which I keep ramming home to the boys.”