Brendon McCullum: Chance to revitalise ‘rock bottom’ England and declining Test cricket too good to turn down
Brendon McCullum says the twin challenges of reinvigorating “rock bottom” England and giving a shot in the arm to the world of Test cricket more widely provided an irresistible pull to the coaching role he was confirmed in yesterday.
McCullum, the former New Zealand captain and current coach of Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, said he was attracted to England’s Test job over the white-ball formats because he wanted a role that was “grunty and meaty, not cushy”.
Speaking on SENZ, where he has had a radio show with former All Black Israel Dagg in recent years, McCullum admitted it had been an “emotional” time making a decision that will see him come up against the Black Caps in his first assignment at Lord’s on June 2.
“Rob Key rang and asked if I was interested in the process,” he said. “I said I would. As we got closer, going through formalities of it, it kind of smacked me in the head, and said, ‘This is something I could really do’. What an opportunity, and what a chance in your life to be able to make a sizeable difference to a country as big as England.”
Part of the lure, he said, was reviving Test cricket, which he described as his “real love”.
“I think Test cricket is on a downward trend in regards to popularity,” he said. “Whilst I’m lucky to have a career in franchise cricket, Tests are my real love. I look at it and think if anyone is able to reinvigorate Test cricket and make it popular to the next generation, it’s going to be England.
“If you can be at the forefront of that, playing an attractive brand, with a smile on your face, trying to entertain, then Test cricket has a chance. Once you strip that out, I thought, ‘Crikey I have to give it a crack if they think I’m the right guy’. It all happened quickly but I’m humbled and delighted.”
McCullum’s coaching experience, since his retirement in 2019, has been entirely at T20 level, but he said working with England’s white-ball team did not appeal because of the position of strength they find themselves in. Paul Collingwood remains the favourite to be coach of Eoin Morgan’s team.
“I looked at the two roles, and the white ball didn’t interest me too much,” he continued. “That team is flying, they are one of the best teams in the world, they are world champions since 2019, Eoin Morgan is in there, who’s a very good friend of mine and has built a structure and a system that will continue well after he finishes playing.
“I wasn’t really interested in a cushy gig. If you are prepared to change your life for something it’s got to be a bit grunty, meaty. The challenge of trying to bring a team that is rock bottom at the moment out of that situation to build something that is long-term, sustainable and successful, that is where the challenge lay.
“I love Test cricket, the opportunity to coach England, spend time around the tradition and history of the game, it became so appealing for those reasons. Plus if we can get England to a level where people want to watch us play Test cricket because of the style of play, the personalities involved, because it’s entertaining, then Test cricket has a chance not just of surviving but thriving.”
McCullum said he had been joking with former teammate Tim Southee, who is part of his squad at KKR, that England were “massive underdogs” and that “all the pressure was on” World Test champions New Zealand next month.