In a surprise move, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have appointed former New Zealand captain and current Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) head coach Brendon McCullum as head coach of Test team. McCullum has a four-year deal with England cricket, during which he will have to try and turn around the fortunes of a red-ball side that has hit its nadir over the last year and a half. Remember, the Kiwi legend takes charge of a team that has won only one of their last 17 Test matches. They were drubbed 0-4 in the Ashes, forcing the coaching setup, as well as the captain, to resign. An unenviable task, without a doubt. However, the big question remains – is Brendon McCullum is the right choice as England’s Test coach?
Reputation over experience
Whether ‘Baz’ succeeds or not, we will know in the future. However, his appointment is a gamble, without a doubt. The New Zealander has never held a coaching position for a red-ball team. In T20 cricket, he won the Caribbean Premier League with Trinbago Knight Riders in 2020 and coached the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to the final of the IPL in 2021. However, this season the franchise have struggled, and some of his moves have been questioned. As such, the timing of McCullum’s appointment is rather curious. He has a herculean task on hand, without a doubt.
Rebuilding the side with Stokes
Before being expected to deliver results, McCullum and new England captain Ben Stokes will have to sit down and put together a 15-20 member squad on paper who can represent them in Test cricket over the next couple of years. This will be an extremely arduous task, especially in the batting department. Apart from the current skipper Stokes and his predecessor Joe Root, none of the other batting options select themselves in the playing XI. The problem starts right at the top, where the likes of Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley, and Dom Sibley have all failed to grab their opportunities. Of the four, Crawley might get a longer run since he has shown glimpses of brilliance.
The story is not too optimistic in the middle order as well. In the Ashes, Root was the only England batter to cross the 300-run mark. Dawid Malan played a couple of good knocks, while Stokes was disappointing. They will stick to Jonny Bairstow, for he made a brilliant comeback against the Aussies. But the million-dollar question will be whether they go back to Jos Buttler in red-ball cricket based on his IPL heroics or stick to Ben Foakes. It is pertinent to note that Buttler had disastrous Ashes behind the stumps and in front of it.
There are similar challenges in the bowling, but for now, it seems McCullum and Stokes will have to go back to James Anderson and Stuart Broad since the younger ones are battling form and fitness issues. Of course, McCullum is someone known for his bold and, sometimes, outrageous moves. In England’s case, though, he is handicapped for options as none of the newcomers have effectively sealed their spot yet.
Inspired by Kiwis’ Test turnaround?
McCullum is hailed for revolutionizing New Zealand’s white-ball cricket, inspiring them to play fearless cricket by leading from the front. However, he doesn’t get enough credit for turning around the fortunes of the nation’s red-ball squad. When he took over in 2012, Kiwi cricket was struggling to make any kind of impact in Test cricket. There was a sense of lethargy and a visible lack of motivation to perform.
New Zealand had the players, but they needed someone to give them that lift. McCullum was the perfect man for the job and brought Kiwi cricket out of turmoil. However, what he is tasked with when it comes to England’s red-ball cricket is a lot more complex. From identifying players to setting the team culture and backing talent, McCullum will have to start everything from ground zero.