England’s latest appointment will usher in a new era of slamming attacks led by Ben Stokes, McCullum’s assistant manager at Kolkata Knight Riders believes
The much-needed regeneration of the nation’s red ball team is now in the hands of a man with just three years of coaching experience, none of which has come in Test, first-class or international environments.
It is a sign of the boldness of the decision that Brendon McCullum’s surprise appointment as England’s new Test cricket head coach has raised as many questions as it answers.
But with a four-year deal signed, sealed and delivered, McCullum’s inexperience doesn’t matter, according to Abhishek Nayar, the New Zealander’s assistant with the IPL franchise’s Kolkata Knight Riders.
“I really don’t think that’s a problem because his greatest strength is adapting and understanding systems,” says the former India international I. “You will see that in England too.
“With Ben Stokes and Baz at the helm I think you’re going to see a lot of aggressive and counter-attacking cricket. You’ll associate England a lot more with white ball cricket: you’ll see a lot more shots, a lot more positivity and people willing to take a risk.
“I’m pretty sure it will be different than in the past. I mean, it can’t get any worse, can it?”
Right. England’s dismal run from a Test win in 17 years under head coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root – epitomized by Ashes’ miserable 4-0 defeat by Australia in December – has left that team helpless, mired in a rudderless rut that in recent time unmatched by any English team.
Much of the talk about the team’s mistakes and how to fix them has called for more red ball cricket, not less – but it’s clear McCullum’s approach will be more reminiscent of the direct cutting and jabbing of the limited overs game than anything else.
“A sense of security and a sense of identity: I think those are the two things he’ll bring,” says Nayar. “You will identify England as a team that plays a certain style of cricket and you will identify the players as a happy entity that plays aggressive, positive cricket through and through. And the coach will stand by his players.”
In fact, loyalty is a theme repeatedly mentioned by Nayar when asked what defines McCullum’s approach to coaching. The former Black Caps captain delegates most of the responsibility for technical and tactical details to his support team and captain, with a primary focus on man management – which Nayar says is his forte.
“There’s a lot of confidence and little uncertainty when Baz is around in terms of the way he talks to players and his positivity,” he explains. “I think I can say he’s the most positive person I’ve ever met. I keep telling him I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to match his positivity!
“The way he works makes everyone feel bulletproof. He’s really trying to take away the noise from outside and make it as easy as possible for the player and I think that’s his greatest strength. He first identifies players’ strengths and weaknesses and then uses them to create the right environment for them to perform and play freely.”
And it’s not just players that McCullum forms meaningful relationships with, as Nayar himself has been surprised to discover since first sitting with him in a London cafe in 2019.
“I played against him a little bit when I was a player and he was always someone with that aura and personality from the way he acted on the field. He was always someone you wanted to meet and understand the way he thought, so I always looked forward to meeting him to understand that.
“A lot has changed in our relationship since then. We’re in a place now where we can talk about our personal issues and I think that makes a big difference. That’s something that really sets me apart. If necessary, I can talk to him about my problems without worrying that he will judge me or look at me differently.”
Creating a cohesive national line-up that connects the players not just with each other but with the backing team will be essential if McCullum is to turn England around, as will a brave determination to stay on the ball when things get difficult. However, Nayar insists he has determination in abundance.
“I was surprised that he chose the red ball instead of the white ball,” he laughs. “But he always likes a challenge in life and I think he felt like turning things around was a big challenge for him.
“He likes a challenge and he felt this was a big challenge for him. It’s something that will challenge him as a coach and as a person and that’s what he’s striving for. I’m very excited to see how it goes and after three years with him I have high expectations.”