The most overt statement of Brendon McCullum’s style on the first day of the Lions tour match against South Africa came in his choice of trousers: white jeans. He is almost certainly the first England coach to don them.
McCullum was a quiet figure as the Lions plugged away in the field, emerging from his viewing position only occasionally (and being swamped by excited, autograph-hunting kids). But his influence on the English red-ball game is being seen at county level, and he addressed the team before play, reminding them that his door was open if they had any questions about what he was after.
Craig Overton, Harry Brook and captain Sam Billings are the players who have been around the Test squad. Overton said it was their responsibility to reinforce McCullum’s views.
“The main message for the boys was to try to replicate what the England team are doing at the minute,” he said.
‘Bazball’ has always been more obvious when England are batting than bowling. But wicket-searching fields and excellent catching are what he is after, and the Lions provided that as South Africa reached 282 for six. Overton and Ollie Robinson, who are both in the squad for Wednesday’s First Test but currently unlikely to start, bowled with the sort of relentlessness asked of them.
“I think the English selectors have got a lot of hard thinking to do,” said Khaya Zondo, who was unbeaten on 86 for South Africa. “I think both of them were definitely the toughest. They’re always testing your technique.”
Another aspect of the McCullum outlook is loyalty. Zak Crawley has had another quiet Test summer so far, with a top score of 46 (admittedly in his most recent innings) and, since, has endured a run of low scores that have taken his first-class average into the twenties.
“It’s huge [being backed],” Crawley told talkSPORT. “For a lot of time in my England career you are looking over your shoulder, wondering if it’s my last game, how many do I have left? When you are backed by senior people, it gives you confidence, I am going to back myself and play my own game. That is my best chance of succeeding. It means a lot.”
Crawley says his approach to a run of low form is to get into the nets, rather than step away from the game.
“I’m of the mentality to get in the nets, work hard,” he said. “Other people find it different, they want to get away from the game. A lot of people try to tell me that. I prefer to sort it out. If I feel like there is something I need to improve on, I will sort it out. Then I can look myself in the mirror and say if it didn’t work out at least I gave it my best shot. I’m very confident that things will turn around well for me for the rest of the summer.”
Today at Canterbury, the Lions batters, with Ben Duckett perhaps pushing hardest, have the opportunity to put pressure on Crawley — and to impress McCullum.