It is a sign of the decision’s boldness that Brendon McCullum’s surprise appointment as England’s new Test cricket head coach has created as many questions as it answers.
The desperately-needed regeneration of the nation’s red-ball team now lies in the hands of a man with just three years’ coaching experience, none of which has come in Test, first-class or international settings.
But with a four-year contract signed, sealed and delivered, McCullum’s inexperience matters little, according to Abhishek Nayar, the New Zealander’s assistant at IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders.
“I really don’t think it’s an issue because his biggest strength is adapting and understanding systems,” the former India international tells i. “That is what you will see with England as well.
“With Ben Stokes and Baz at the helm I think you will see a lot of aggressive and counter-attacking cricket. You will associate England a lot more with white-ball cricket: you will see a lot more stroke-making, a lot more positivity and people willing to take a risk.
“I’m pretty sure it will be different from what it has been in the past. I mean, you can’t get worse, right?”
Quite. England’s dismal run of one Test win in 17 under head coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root – epitomised by December’s abysmal 4-0 Ashes defeat to Australia – has left this team adrift, stuck in a rudderless rut unrivalled by any England side in recent memory.
Much of the conversation surrounding the team’s failings and how to rectify them has called for more red-ball cricket, not less – yet it is clear that McCullum’s approach will be more reminiscent of the forthright cut and thrust 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 will bring,” Nayar says. “You will identify England as a team that plays a certain brand of cricket and you will identify the players as one happy unit playing aggressive, positive cricket through and through. And the coach will stand by his players.”
Indeed, loyalty is a theme mentioned repeatedly by Nayar when asked about what defines McCullum’s approach to coaching. The former Black Caps captain delegates most of the responsibility for technical and tactical detail to his support staff and captain, focusing mainly on man management – which Nayar says is his forte.
“There’s a lot of trust and there’s very little insecurity when Baz is around in terms of how he speaks to players and his positivity,” he explains. “I think I can say he is the most positive person I have ever met. I keep telling him that I’m not sure I can ever match up to his level of positivity!
“His way of working is making everyone feel bulletproof about themselves. He really tries to take away the noise from outside and make it as simple as possible for the player and I think that’s his biggest strength. He identifies players’ strengths and weaknesses first and then uses them to create the right environment for them to perform in and play freely.”
And it is not just players who McCullum builds meaningful relationships with, as Nayar himself has been surprised to find since sitting down with him for the first time in a London coffee shop in 2019.
“I played against him a bit when I was a player and he was always someone with this aura and persona, the way he carried himself on the field. He was always someone you wanted to meet and understand their mindset so I was always looking forward to meeting him to understand that.