England will take a punt on Thursday on a rookie with a love of gambling on the horses when they confirm Brendon McCullum as their new Test coach.
The New Zealander, as revealed by Sportsmail on Tuesday, is the surprise choice – ahead of the more experienced Gary Kirsten – of Rob Key to join forces with new captain Ben Stokes in what promises to be an all-action, high-octane Test partnership.
And if the way McCullum transformed New Zealand’s red-ball and white-ball cricket, putting the emphasis on entertainment and sportsmanship, is a guide then England’s long-suffering Test supporters could be in for quite a ride.
England will take a punt on Brendon McCullum when they confirm him as their new Test coach
McCullum is the surprise choice of Rob Key (R) ahead of the more experienced Gary Kirsten (L)
It was McCullum who proved a role model for his great friend Eoin Morgan with his approach as captain to the 2015 World Cup, particularly the way New Zealand demolished England at Wellington on their way to the final.
More pertinently, it was McCullum who began the red-ball journey that culminated in New Zealand, with minimal resources, conquering India last year to win the World Test Championship. And always with smiles on their faces.
It is something of a risk for Key, the new managing director, because McCullum, 40, has not coached in a single first-class match, his experience being confined to Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL and their Caribbean Twenty20 affiliate Trinidad.
McCullum (R) proved a role model for Eoin Morgan (L) and remains firm friends with him
But it is also an exciting move because McCullum has been one of the most influential figures in world cricket over the last 10 years and is cut from the same cloth as Stokes, who will want his players to be attacking but selfless.
It was as a destructive hitter that McCullum made his name. He got the first instalment of the IPL off to an explosive start in 2008 when he smashed 158 for Kolkata in the very first match.
He then became the second man, after Chris Gayle, to hit a Twenty20 international century.
But it was not until late in his playing career that McCullum had his epiphany moment after being part of a New Zealand Test side who were, in 2013, ranked eighth in Tests and widely criticised for their attitude and behaviour.
He began the red-ball journey that saw his country win the World Test Championship last year
By the time he handed over the captaincy to Kane Williamson in 2016, the transformation was almost complete. ‘We had to be honest with ourselves,’ said McCullum when he reflected on the changes he made to his approach and that of his team.
‘Where we used to sit in international cricket was pretty ugly and the players weren’t enjoying themselves. We had to work out how this team wanted to be known and the changes we needed to make.
‘It sounds corny but we talked of the little boys who fell in love with the game and that’s what we tried to remember as a group.
‘Then you go about trying to ensure the environment makes guys feel comfortable but also that there’s accountability in there as well.’
He could easily have been talking about the challenge that faces England, who are currently bottom of the World Test Championship standings.
He promises to form an all-action, high-octane Test partnership with Ben Stokes (right)
It was not until late in his playing career that McCullum had his epiphany moment
McCullum, who told Kolkata on Wednesday he was leaving to take up the England post, remains firm friends with Morgan, acting as master of ceremonies at his wedding, and the pair share a love of the horses.
‘I don’t mind going for a beer and to the races and having a punt,’ McCullum has said. ‘That gives me satisfaction but I wouldn’t say I’m a massive gambler.’
Now Key, not averse to a game of poker himself, has taken a gamble on McCullum in a move that will be confirmed on Thursday before the former Kent captain completes his search for a white-ball coach to work with Morgan.
Kirsten is said to be in the frame – even though it looks like he has missed out for the third time on the top job with England – along with Simon Katich, Paul Collingwood, Nick Knight and Mark Alleyne. And a new name in the frame emerged on Wednesday in the form of former Glamorgan and now Australian women’s coach Matthew Mott.
But it is the bold move for McCullum that will command attention on Thursday and go a long way towards determining whether Key’s enterprising start will translate into England success.
McCullum told IPL side Kolkata on Wednesday he is leaving to take up his England post