Brendon McCullum wants to rid England’s Test team of its “fear of failure” as he prepares to launch a new era at Lord’s next week.
McCullum made his first appearance as head coach at the home of cricket on Friday, having made a circuitous journey from the Indian Premier League via his home in New Zealand, and laid out his plans for England’s fresh start.
He inherits a side on a desperate run of one win in 17 matches and rock bottom of the World Test Championship table, with just three days of work before they head back into action against his fellow Kiwis on Thursday.
With Ben Stokes replacing Joe Root as skipper there has been a change of leadership on the field too and McCullum hopes to quickly alter the mindset around the group.
Assessing England’s struggles over the past 12 months, the former New Zealand captain said: “I see guys who are maybe just a little bit struck by the fear of failure rather than the possibility of success.
“I look at it with a different kind of lens. My first job is to try to bring a real fresh kind of approach and a relaxed style that simplifies things somewhat.
“It’s not going to be easy, I understand that, and there’ll be some guys that get there quicker than others. But one thing I can guarantee is that when you do get to that state where you’re playing the game for the game’s sake, because you enjoy it and you’re invested in it and you immerse yourself in that moment, cricket’s a great game to play.
I see guys who are maybe just a little bit struck by the fear of failure rather than the possibility of success. I look at it with a different kind of lens.Brendon McCullum
“It’s not a great game when you’re worried about all the other stuff which goes on. That’ll be the message which I keep ramming home to the boys.”
McCullum suggested the tendency towards tension may be a wider issue within English cricket and revealed he had already consulted two of England’s previous overseas coaches – Andy Flower and Trevor Bayliss – about the value of an outside voice.
“Everyone’s got it (fear) to a degree, but it’s probably just a little more ‘English’,” he said.
“I’ve spoken to both Andy and also TB in a little bit of depth about the challenge and what it entails, and both were pretty similar in their views: that you’ve just got to try and take pressure away from the guys. That’s one of the beauties of it because it’s where a lot of my skills are.
“Maybe that’s the thing with being from overseas, you can maybe identify that and go about trying to bring that simplified method in. Maybe if you’re English, you’re probably a little bit more involved in the whole thing. I don’t know, maybe it’s a coincidence, but we’ll find out. I might be terrible!”
At 40, McCullum is just 10 months older than James Anderson, the man who will lead the attack at Lord’s after being recalled from an unexpected omission against the West Indies earlier this year.
Stuart Broad, 35, is also back in the squad and while McCullum realises he will probably be the man who finally has to manage the duo’s exit he is not planning on rushing them out of the door.
“I kind of sat back a little bit in selection, I (only) picked Stokes, Root, Anderson and Broad,” he joked.
“I’m looking forward to working with them. I probably looked at them a few years ago and I thought it was going to be a time where England would have to transition to the next stage but it just shows how tough they are physically, how tough they are mentally and how driven they are to perform.
“I’m looking forward to sitting down with them and chatting about what they want out of the next few years. How do they want to leave the game when the time does eventuate. I haven’t got a definitive date on it. And I’m sure they don’t either.
“But if you do that and you understand your mortality as a cricketer, I think you’re then really able to enjoy and really find that sweet spot in the final years of your career. For now, we should enjoy the fact we’ve got 280 Test matches (actually 321) sitting in our bowling unit.”