Brendon McCullum fancies England’s ultra-aggressive start to life under Ben Stokes has set alarm bells ringing in dressing rooms around the world, with the new head coach hoping his players now push the limits of what is possible.
Hot on the heels of the 3-0 clean-sweep over the world champions, New Zealand, comes the rearranged fifth Test against India at Edgbaston on Friday and another chance for England’s players – their batting lineup in particular – to go on the offensive.
McCullum has kept a relatively low profile since his appointment as Test head coach six weeks ago but his attacking mantra – something he says Stokes has taken even further during team talks – has produced instant, breathtaking results.
England collectively scored at 4.5 per over – a figure not witnessed at home since the 2005 Ashes – and Jonny Bairstow has led the way with nearly 400 runs at a strike-rate of 120. Speaking after the seven-wicket victory at Headingley, sealed with Bairstow’s 10th six of the series, McCullum believes a message has been sent.
He said: “The World Test Champions were a formidable opponent and the alarm bells have probably gone off somewhat around world cricket as to how this team is going to play. We need to make sure against a different opposition we’re well researched, well planned, well prepared for that and try and roll out a similar kind of performance.”
With these orders from the 40-year-old comes a warning that going hard at bowlers will not work every time – not that McCullum is urging caution. Instead he will be the soft Kiwi voice on their shoulder goading them to head towards danger, something any adrenaline-seeking visitor to New Zealand may well relate to.
“I hope we take it too far because then we’ll know exactly where that line is,” he said. “Until you do that, you’re not really sure. We’ve seen it with the England white-ball stuff – there have been times where they’ve probably pushed too hard, and then they know. I think it’ll be the same with us – we’ve got to keep exploring what that line is.
“There will be some tough times, I have no doubt about that. We will have to be strong in our belief about the direction we are heading. Do that, bank the good times, we will be in a position that is stronger when the tough times do come. You don’t want to throw all the good work out to try and fix a bad performance.”
McCullum believes timing is everything and England have responded to his methods because, after one win in 17 Tests previously, they were ready for change. The true orchestrator of this is Stokes, however, a captain who McCullum says has him “covered” when it comes to aggression.
“He’s been superb, his messaging has been very consistent and very articulate as well. When we’re fielding, he’s constantly making plays. It means at least we’re in control regardless of what the scoreboard says. When he’s batting, he’s pushing the envelope which is sending a message to not just our dressing room but to other dressing rooms around the world that this is how we’re going to play.”
McCullum and Stokes have added Sam Billings to their squad to face India – cover for Ben Foakes as he recovers from a back problem and Covid-19 – and kept faith with Zak Crawley despite only 87 runs from six innings, 64 of which came in boundaries .
Asked if the days of obdurate Test batters are over, he replied: “I haven’t really thought too much about that. I just look at the players we’ve got and I think they fit the bill for what we’re trying to achieve and the style we want to play. It’s probably not what we’re after. I’m happy with what we’ve got at the moment anyway.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism