England vs New Zealand: Brendon McCullum’s inside track gives hope of starting new era in fine fashion
In many respects, New Zealand are the perfect first visitors for England’s new era.
It is to the Black Caps that English cricket has looked when in search of inspiration in recent years; first, for the white-ball side from 2015, and now they have taken it one step further in the longest form by hiring the architect of it all, Brendon McCullum.
McCullum’s New Zealand played some unforgettable matches against England, who do not have a series win over the Black Caps since the start of his reign, in 2013. There was the assault at the 2015 World Cup, then the wonderful England tour that followed, which saw Ben Stokes, now McCullum’s captain, reassert himself on the Test stage with a stunning century at Lord’s.
McCullum is one of a number of Kiwi coaches making waves around the world, although not quite to the extent they do in rugby yet. Stephen Fleming, Dan Vettori and Mike Hesson are all sought-after minds.
McCullum is a proud Kiwi, and this is all as odd for him as it is for the Black Caps. “It already is strange,” said Gary Stead, the New Zealand coach. “I walked across the ground with him. I think he went into the right dressing room, he turned left and I turned right.”
McCullum was largely an observer at nets on Monday. He briefly fed catches to the slip cordon, but generally roamed around, getting a feel for his new players and coaches. He is every bit the modern coach or, more accurately, manager; he sets the team’s mood and tactical direction, while leaving the minutiae to others.
England have had coaches for 35 years, and generally been more successful under foreigners. McCullum is the first New Zealander, but also the first superstar to take the job. Andy Flower was a legendary player who took the job young, but he had nothing like the IPL glamour of McCullum.
The IPL will be a talking point in this series, and it does contribute to a sense that this might be a good time to play New Zealand. As Jonny Bairstow, the only England player to come from the tournament for Thursday’s opener at Lord’s, said, New Zealand are affected more by that issue than the hosts.
Trent Boult is set to miss out at Lord’s because he only arrived last night, having played in the final, while Kane Williamson has not scored a run on English soil since landing. Tim Southee, Devon Conway and Daryl Mitchell have also been at the tournament.
Since lifting the World Test Championship last year, Ross Taylor and BJ Watling have retired, while another member of that fine top six, Henry Nicholls, will be missing because Covid has disrupted his return from a calf injury. Lower down, Neil Wagner and Southee are well into their thirties.
It would be naive to consider the Black Caps vulnerable, but a disrupted build-up and an inside track gives England a chance.