The challenge of lifting England’s Test cricket from ‘rock bottom’ instead of a ‘cushy’ role with the limited-overs side is what attracted Brendon McCullum to his first red-ball coaching job.
McCullum was confirmed as England’s Test head coach on Thursday and will take up the position in time for the series against New Zealand next month after he concludes the current IPL season with Kolkata Knight Riders.
He admitted that initially it was not a job he had given much thought to, but as the interview process progressed the opportunity “kind of smacked me in the head.”
“I looked at the two roles: the white-ball didn’t interest me as such because the team is flying – one of the best teams in the world. They’ve got Eoin Morgan – who is a very good friend of mine – who has built a structure and system which will continue well after he finishes playing,” he told radio station SENZ.
“I wasn’t really interested in a cushy kind of gig. For me, if you are prepared to change your life for something then it’s got to be something a bit grunty, a bit meaty, and the challenge of trying to bring a team which is rock bottom at the moment, and try and build something long term that is sustainable and successful. That is more where the challenge lay.”
McCullum added that it was vital for the health of Test cricket that England, who have won just one of their last 17 matches, were strong in the format. The four-year deal he has signed will take him up to the end of the 2025-26 Ashes in Australia.
“For me, Test cricket is on a downward trend in terms of its popularity and where it sits, and while I’m lucky enough to have a career in franchise cricket and white-ball cricket, Test cricket is my real love,” he said.
“If anyone is going to be able to reinvigorate Test cricket and get it popular again then it’s going to be England.
“If you can be at the forefront of that by playing an attractive brand of cricket, play with a smile on your face and try to entertain, then Test cricket has a chance. Once you strip that out it was like, crikey, I’ve got to give this a chance if they think I’m the right person.”
McCullum was excited about striking up a partnership with new captain Ben Stokes – jokingly noting that it was now two New Zealanders in charge of the Test team – and called the opportunity given to him ‘humbling’.
“The way Ben Stokes plays the game is pretty similar to how I play and how I love coaching, which is to play with a bit of freedom and try and put pressure back on the opposition,” he said.
However, it did not pass him by that there may be some strange feelings on the opening day of the first Test at Lord’s on 2 June. “That’s going to be a little interesting, I will say that, but at the same time there’s something kind of cool about it too.”