Sometimes I don’t understand Andrew Strauss. He was conservatism personified as England captain. And yet, since becoming an administrator, he’s turned into Mr Funky. We’ve had his irrational support for The Hundred, his decision to prioritise white ball over red ball (even though he was more of a red ball player), and now he’s appointed a high-risk / high reward candidate who everyone thought was a better fit for the white ball role, as England Test coach. What’s more, in doing so, he eschewed the safe but experienced Gary Kirsten who was the mirror image of Strauss as a player. Sometimes I wonder if the real Andrew Strauss was kidnapped by aliens and the imposter we’re seeing today is just trolling us for shits and giggles.
Although Rob Key was technically in charge of this appointment, I’ve read more from Strauss on the interview process than the new MD. In fact, my gut tells me that Strauss led this process as he’d been in situ for a lot longer than affable Rob. However, I don’t doubt that Key was very much onboard. I can see him being extremely impressed by a man of McCullum’s stature, flamboyance, and self-confidence.
I am a little concerned, however, by the press notes following the announcement. Apparently McCullum got the job because of his ‘clarity of purpose’ and ‘positive intent’. Indeed, his strategy can basically be summarised thus: play your natural game and seize the day. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that – it’s hardly original – but one would’ve expected Strauss, who may or may not be going through a midlife crisis on the evidence available, to have been attracted to something a tad more scientific. Indeed, McCullum’s MO is the polar opposite of the mechanical ‘bowling dry’ strategy that Strauss bored the opposition to tears with as skipper.
It’s all extremely interesting if you ask me – although ‘curious’ might be a better word. Just three years ago, McCullum declared that Test cricket was dying and T20 was the future. And yet here he is, apparently wetting his pants in excitement at the prospect of leading England’s Test side into a future that doesn’t exist.
So what do you make of this rather left field appointment? My impression is that supporters are polarised. Some quite rightly point out that he’s an inspirational personality, an infectious personality in fact, who can’t help but motivate England’s beleaguered troops. Others, quite rightly, point out that he’s basically got bugger all experience. His extremely short CV as a coach is limited to T20 franchises, where he’s been mostly successful but not exclusively so.
What do I think personally? I’m conflicted. I’ve always liked McCullum as both a player and a captain. How can one not? But I have to say that I’m a bit concerned about his credentials. I mean, how relevant is captaincy to coaching? It’s related, I suppose, but they’re not totally aligned. Michael Vaughan was an excellent England captain, for example, but I imagine he’d be a bloody terrible England coach.
In addition, England have now got the least experienced MD and head coach combo conceivable. I would’ve thought that Kirsten would’ve been the steady hand and wise old sage that the green Rob Key needed. Instead, we’ve got two rookies in charge of an extremely tough brief. Will it be inspired fresh thinking or two naïve novices leading a listing ship into even choppier waters?
Basically, therefore, although I’m quite excited by McCullum’s appointment – not least because he’ll relish beating Australia just as much as any England supporter – I’m slightly concerned by the rationale behind this decision. The problem with Chris Silverwood was his lack of experience. So how is it logical to appoint a candidate with even less experience?
Finally, McCullum never seemed to be a particularly technical player. He was most famous for innings when he played by the seat of his pants. Are England’s inauspicious XI really talented enough, or naturally free-spirited enough, to play in the same way? I have my doubts. Perhaps this particular XI would’ve been better served by a coach with experience of extracting every single modicum of talent from his body (someone who over-performed as a player) rather than a great entertainer? I dunno.
So I’ll leave it there for now. McCullum, as I said above, is a high-risk appointment that could pay off spectacularly. The positive side is that he could be credited with installing a culture that eventually took New Zealand to the World Test Championship. But the negative is that he’s pretty new to this coaching lark. Great players, and even great captains, don’t always make the transition successfully.
So have the ECB appointed the new Pep Guardiola or the next Kevin Keegan? Time will tell, I guess. The good news, however, is that I’d probably settle for the next Frank Lampard at this point – someone who’s experienced mixed success in the dugout. After all, some success, and a basic level of competence, would surely be an upgrade on the last couple of years. What’s more, he should be used to fighting it out at the bottom of the table with a team accustomed to losing.