This Thursday, New Zealand and England begin a three-match test cricket series which will have the attention of cricket fans around the world.
Because arguably New Zealand’s most influential cricketer is at the helm of England’s test team for the first time.
The New Zealand redemption story
2nd of January 2013 was a dark day for New Zealand cricket.
Winning the toss against South Africa, captain Brendon McCullum chose to bat first—19.2 overs later, New Zealand’s national team were bowled out for 45 runs, their lowest total in half a century.
That was McCullum’s first test match as captain.
As the story goes, new captain Brendon McCullum sat down with head coach Mike Hesson to thrash things out over a beer that evening. It was rock bottom, and the two talked honestly about what needed to change in the team’s culture—who they currently were as a group, and who they wanted to be moving forward.
Fast forward the best part of a decade, and New Zealand have reached two ODI World Cup finals, one T20I World Cup final, and won the inaugural Test Championship last year.
It all started that night in South Africa, and despite McCullum retiring in 2016, he is widely credited for laying the foundation that led to New Zealand’s success in recent years.
Dark times in the England camp
The first half of 2022 has been a series of dark hours for English cricket.
In a much anticipated Ashes series against Australia, England were whitewashed, losing the series 4-0—notably, failing to reach 300 runs as a team across ten different innings.
Their comeback series, a tour of West Indies, saw them lose 1-0 to a young, understrength West Indies side. Following this, they cleaned house, firing a plethora of leaders, including their captain and head coach, in an attempt to revive the test side.
The current English side has lost more test matches, and suffered more humiliating collapses, than any test side in recent memory. It is their rock-bottom, and they are desperately in need of one of those soul-searching evenings in South Africa over a beer.
Enter: Brendon McCullum.
Can New Zealand’s finest orchestrate a revival?
It must come as something of a déjà vu for McCullum, as he prepares the England’s test cricket team for their upcoming series against New Zealand.
This English team appears strikingly similar to the New Zealand side of early 2013—lacking in character, grit and direction. In McCullum’s own words, that Black Caps team “…individually and collectively lacked character,” with the Kiwi going on to describe the team as having no soul, and being “…full of bluster but soft as putty.”
Many would describe England’s test team the same way right now.
This is McCullum’s forte; he led the revival of the Black Caps from a similar position, to world-beaters. So the question is: Can he do it again?
You wouldn’t bet against it.
More than pride at stake
Take a second to zoom out, and it becomes clear that McCullum’s attempt to revive England’s test team is about more than English pride.
It’s about reviving test cricket.
As the least commercially viable format of the game, test cricket has been waning for years in terms of crowd numbers and revenue generated. What better way to bring life back to the game of cricket, than by reviving the form of an historic nation like England, where the commercial potential and fan base are already present, ready to be engaged.
Should McCullum bring about a culture shift in English cricket, the impact will be seen far beyond national pride.
It’s an opportunity to reinvigorate test cricket as a whole.