The confirmation of Brendon McCullum as England’s new Test coach came with a friendly warning from director of cricket Rob Key: ‘Time for us all to buckle up and get ready for the ride.’
As if to confirm as much, McCullum prepared to launch his aggressive alliance with new captain Ben Stokes by declaring that he intends to deal with the ‘significant challenges’ faced by England’s Test team by confronting them ‘head-on’.
This, don’t forget, is a man who signed off as New Zealand’s revolutionary captain in 2016 by scoring the fastest century in Test history, from 54 balls, against Australia in Christchurch. Eight years earlier, he launched the new IPL with 158 not out from 73 balls on the first evening. Head-on confrontation? McCullum knows no other way.
The ECB has appointed Brendon McCullum (pictured) as England men’s Test head coach
‘He has a recent history of changing cricket culture and environments for the better and I believe he is the person to do that for England’s red-ball cricket,’ said Key. ‘I believe in Brendon and Ben Stokes — a formidable coach and captain partnership.’
McCullum, who has signed a four-year deal with the ECB, will give up his role as head coach of IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders after their final match — possibly as early as next week.
It is understood he was earning around £360,000 at Kolkata, and his new job is unlikely to earn him much of a pay rise.
The Australian Trevor Bayliss, who was in charge for all three formats, collected roughly £500,000 a year during his time as England coach, while his successor Chris Silverwood was on a touch less.
Instead, McCullum appears to be motivated as much by the challenge. England recently slipped to sixth in the ICC Test rankings, with their lowest points tally since 1995, and are an embarrassing ninth out of nine in the World Test Championship, below even Bangladesh.
McCullum still regards Test cricket as the ultimate format and, despite never having coached a red-ball team before, knows that a role as high-profile as the England job does not come around often. After being chosen by a selection panel comprising Key, ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, strategic adviser Sir Andrew Strauss and performance director Mo Bobat, he intends to throw himself at it with his customary gusto.
McCullum is currently head coach of Indian Premier League franchise Kolkata Knight Riders
McCullum said: ‘I am acutely aware of the significant challenges the team faces at present. And I strongly believe in my ability to help the team emerge as a stronger force once we have confronted them head-on.
‘I’ve enjoyed several robust conversations with Rob Key about the direction of travel for the team and have found his enthusiasm contagious. I’m no stranger to bringing about change within a team environment and I can’t wait to get started. Ben Stokes is the perfect character to inspire change around him and I look forward to working closely with him to build a successful unit around us.’
The overriding task for the 40-year-old McCullum is to find a way of turning an England team that won one out of 17 Tests before the resignation of Joe Root into a side able to play the brand of cricket demanded by him and Stokes.
Root is inked in at No 4 and Stokes at No 6 for next month’s first Test against McCullum’s native New Zealand at Lord’s. So unless England drop Ben Foakes so soon after giving him the gloves in the Caribbean, the No 5 role will go to either Jonny Bairstow, who scored centuries over the winter in Sydney and Antigua, or Dan Lawrence, whose selfless batting against West Indies went down well with his new captain. Either way, England would boast a middle order capable of scoring at the required tempo.
New MD Rob Key (pictured) and the selection panel believe McCullum was the top candidate
The problem comes higher up. Does aggressive cricket include room for a steady opener who lays a platform, such as Durham’s Alex Lees, or will McCullum and Stokes be tempted to follow Bayliss’s example during the 2019 Ashes, and pick a dasher like Jason Roy? Options are thin on the ground.
Meanwhile, interviews for England’s white-ball coaching job will continue as Key looks to complete his new-look set-up in time for the Lord’s Test on June 2. South African Gary Kirsten, who is said to be disappointed at his failure to land the Test role, is understood not to be interested.
There is less certainty about whom to appoint as national selector — a role dispensed with last year when Key’s predecessor Ashley Giles sacked Ed Smith. There is even a chance Key will take on the responsibility himself.
Whatever he decides, the path is clear for yet another fresh start, with unconvincing talk of a red-ball reset giving way to the sense of a brave new world. In that respect, McCullum is the perfect fit.
McCullum (left) was Test captain of the Black Caps from 2012 to his retirement in 2016