Brendon McCullum faces a big task when he takes over an England men’s Test team that has won just one of their last 17 Tests under the previous regime and that McCullum himself has described as being “at rock bottom”.
We take a look at the three biggest challenges awaiting the new England head coach as he looks to overhaul a team currently ranked sixth in the world and struggling in the World Test Championship.
CHANGE THE MINDSET
The noise around English cricket has been filled with statements about changing the approach and embracing a positive mindset, with Ben Stokes, Rob Key, Mark Wood, Joe Root, Stuart Broad and Andrew Strauss among those to preach a change of direction.
And McCullum is believed to have espoused a similar message in his pitch for the top job, echoing sentiments he made when he captained New Zealand’s Test team between 2012 and 2016.
“It sounds corny, but we talk about the little boy who fell in love with the game: when you have that mindset you can be positive and aggressive, because you’re thinking about what can go right, rather than what might go wrong,” McCullum said during his captaincy tenure.
"We wanted to be known as a team that no matter what situation we were in, we were going to make it bloody tough for the opposition to beat us. They might beat us, and if they outplay us that's fine, but we're going to make it hard."
Developing a similar culture in the current England team will be a key part of McCullum's job specification.
FORGE A STRONG PARTNERSHIP WITH BEN STOKES
The 2022 English summer will see a complete change at the top of the men’s Test team, with a new coach, captain and managing director in place.
And the success of the new era will depend on the key figures all pulling in the same direction.
“The most important thing of all is the connection and alignment between him (McCullum) and Ben Stokes, the captain,” ECB strategic advisor Andrew Strauss said. “Them forging a strong, productive relationship is going to be crucial.”
And the early signs are good, with McCullum’s ethos reflected in the words of Stokes when he was appointed as Test captain last month:
“In terms of on-the-field stuff, a great starting point for me is I want to have selfless cricketers who make decisions based on what they can do to win a game in that given time.”
MAKE THE BIG SELECTION CALLS
The success of the new England coach will ultimately be judged on the performance of the team, so selection will be crucial.
There is no current head selector in place, but McCullum is expected to play a leading role in the selection conversation ahead of the first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s, along with Rob Key, Stokes and selector James Taylor.
Stokes will bat at six and Joe Root at four, but the make-up of the remainder of England’s top seven is unclear. Picking a top three to lead the new England era will be vital, as will making a decision on whether Jonny Bairstow will regain the gloves in place of Ben Foakes or be considered as a specialist batter.
In the short-term England possess plenty of pace bowlers suited to the conditions of the home summer, but the role of spinner has been unclear, with selection flitting between Jack Leach, Dom Bess and the now retired Moeen Ali over recent years, as well as no spinner being picked at all on a number of occasions. Putting faith in a spinner, be it Leach, Bess or the as-yet uncapped Matt Parkinson will be high on McCullum’s priority list.
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