Brendon McCullum putting fun at heart of England’s fight against the rise of T20 franchise cricket

Let the good times roll: Brendon McCullum is keen to cultivate a fun atmosphere inside the England Test camp (Getty Images)
Let the good times roll: Brendon McCullum is keen to cultivate a fun atmosphere inside the England Test camp (Getty Images)

England coach Brendon McCullum has stressed that fun should be put first in Test cricket as the longest form of the sport looks to fight back against the rise of the franchise game.

England’s preparations for their two-match series against New Zealand have been a relaxed affair, with a singular two-day warm-up fixture combined with a four-day golf trip and three-day training camp.

On the surface it appears the conclusion of a coach who is known to enjoy a round of golf and a drink with his players, but McCullum has stressed that there is method in the mellowness.

Never before have cricketers had such a wealth of playing opportunities presented to them, with over 60 English players competing around the world in T20 leagues this winter, and to combat the offer of a quick payday, McCullum believes it is vital to make the Test squad as enjoyable an environment as possible.

“That is the thinking,” McCullum confirmed when asked if the time England spend together off the field is a way of offering something short-term franchise contracts cannot.

“Guys have got so many options these days that in Test cricket, you’ve got to make it enjoyable not just on the field but off the field too. And try and get those guys to know that when they board the plane to head overseas or jump in the car to head down to Lord’s, they're going to have a great time and the results will hopefully follow.

“You can’t guarantee those but what you can do is ensure that you put some money in the bank when it comes to experiences and in relationships. I think it's imperative.”

England cancelled the second two-day warm-up match they had planned in favour of an optional training session and a day off. A day off that may be spent watching McCullum’s horse in the Te Rapa races.

“I’ll be there,” McCullum confirmed with a smile. “I’ve got a second favourite in the Group One, so I’ll certainly be there. It might be the favourite after the boys get on it [too].”

McCullum was keen to stress that the focus on fun as a group rests on a basis of trust that players individually will be putting in the work in their own time and that intensity is high in the more focused training sessions that do take place.

That message was reiterated by Jack Leach earlier in the week, when he said that he had spent January bowling in the nets, while McCullum referred to the three-day training camp in Mount Maunganui as a 72-hour period where he had never seen his players work as hard.

“Before the split formats, one thing we identified is that it can just take a few days to be able to get the natural rhythm of your environment back again. So climbing straight back into cricket again can have a detrimental effect,” McCullum said.

“We like the idea that you try and get the guys together and they find their natural rhythm. We noticed when we got to Mount Maungauni that I hadn’t seen them work as hard as that. So hopefully that trend translates into results. But you never know.

“What's the point of being the other way? Life can be pretty miserable, so you may as well try to put a positive spin on it and be the best version of yourself. You'll let yourself down a little bit occasionally and may not achieve what you want but surely you've got more of a chance with that clarity and positivity.”