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Brendon McCullum sets focus on improved performance against England following defeat in India.
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Brendon McCullum sets focus on improved performance against England following defeat in India.


Brendon McCullum was at the team hotel, thinking back on his team’s disappointing loss in their first series under his leadership as the England head coach. In the distance, he could see a picturesque cricket ground where the Barmy Army was playing against monks from a nearby monastery. This was in stark contrast to the fourth day of the fifth Test against India. And in this moment of reflection, McCullum admitted that his team’s approach needed some improvement.

While not at the top, this entailed acknowledging that some of their public remarks during the tour had backfired on them. For instance, in Rajkot, Ben Duckett’s statement of “the more, the better” in regards to the run chase resulted in England collapsing to a score of 122 all out when facing 557 runs. Additionally, their statement that Yashasvi Jaiswal, who ended up scoring 712 runs, was influenced by the tourists also proved to be misguided.

McCullum expressed confidence in our team, a day after the difficult three-day ending in the foothills of the Himalayas. However, recent events have slightly weakened that belief. We need to be more careful with our words and keep our positive beliefs to ourselves. It’s important to have inward confidence, but we should be more tactful in how we express it.

“It’s the individuals who are shaped by their surroundings. They are still growing and learning, so they shouldn’t be criticized for making a comment that may come off as overconfident. It’s not arrogance, just their belief in the abilities of the group.”

According to McCullum, his team should strive to replicate India’s impressive performance in their 17th consecutive home series win. In particular, India’s ability to capitalize on crucial moments was noteworthy. This was demonstrated on day three in Ranchi when England had the opportunity to tie the series 2-2. However, a lackluster morning session resulted in their first-innings lead of 134 runs with three wickets remaining being reduced to just 43, followed by a crucial collapse.

Captain McCullum stated that India was superior to us in the type of cricket we aim to play, causing us to become defensive. They outperformed us and were more skilled, especially in critical moments. Being revealed in such a manner indicates the need for improvement in certain aspects.

According to McCullum, the team struggled with “timidity,” although this may come as a surprise to some considering their aggressive batting during the final match of their 4-1 loss. He argued that their strong desire to be proactive was hindered by self-doubt and confusion caused by a persistent bowling attack and bad decision-making.

However, this is not the case for one batter, as Joe Root’s performance has been declining after a quiet beginning. Root’s turning point was when he attempted the reverse-ramp in Rajkot, which received criticism. This could serve as a lesson to his teammates to tone down their more daring fielding attempts (although Root himself has shown no remorse when questioned about it publicly).

McCullum stated that the early success of England, where they won 10 out of 11 matches under his and Ben Stokes’ leadership, with a current record of 14 out of 23, was partially due to luck and it obscured some underlying issues. He emphasized that they have had difficult discussions and it is important to acknowledge that there is room for improvement. Moving forward, their focus will be on fine-tuning their performance in the following months.

England’s Ben Foakes is bowled by India’s Ravichandran Ashwin on the third day of the fifth Test.

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There is currently a period of four months before six summer matches against West Indies and Sri Lanka. While McCullum typically emphasizes the importance of staying focused on the present, this four-month gap marks the halfway mark in the project. It has been two years since the head coach signed a four-year deal that extends until the conclusion of the 2025-26 Ashes.

McCullum was cautious about potential alterations to the team, but acknowledged the impact that upcoming matches against Australia and India could have on selection decisions. This could potentially affect the wicketkeeper, preferred spinner, middle order and the future of veteran bowler Jimmy Anderson, who recently reached 700 career wickets. In the meantime, young seamers Gus Atkinson, Josh Tongue, and Matt Potts were all specifically mentioned as possible contenders for future matches.

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Both McCullum and Stokes do not seem ready to retire Anderson, especially because of his role as a mentor to young players. However, the 41-year-old remains a challenging figure; a highly accomplished player who has taken his wickets at an average of 50 runs per game in the past year. He was only used sparingly during the four Tests he played in India, bowling just 118 overs out of a possible 707.5, despite being considered one of the main bowlers.

To that end, with Ollie Robinson’s latest comeback another beset by conditioning issues and Mark Wood less threatening in Indian conditions, Potts should probably have joined the squad halfway through after 20 wickets at 17 in three Lions matches against India A. The 25-year-old’s threat was evidenced by a strike-rate of 31, while 104.4 overs across five innings showed his supreme fitness and durability.

McCullum would not be drawn on the expected bottleneck that will follow when Harry Brook returns from the personal reasons that led him to miss this tour, something that affects both Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes. The head coach praised both, but said the decision – one that may equally result in an outsider coming in, such as the Durham and Lions keeper Ollie Robinson – will be about “the weaponry to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world”.

Concerning the top-pick spinner, it was acknowledged that the impressive debut Test tours of Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir – totaling 39 wickets after Jack Leach’s injury – has caused a congestion. McCullum stated, “Jack will comprehend that and he will take pride in it, as he is someone who prioritizes the team.”

The implication is that due to Bashir’s exaggerated spin and the belief that left-handed bowlers are not as successful in Australia, the 20-year-old may be given the opportunity to bowl first. After a disappointing tour and a bit of humility, it is possible that the refinement of their skills will lead to some established positions being reconsidered.

Source: theguardian.com