England Test restart – Rob Key delighted Brendon McCullum ‘bet’ hit Test jackpot

Rob Key, director of men’s cricket in England, admits he was surprised at how quickly players and the public bought into Brendon McCullum’s new vision for the Test team, but says he agrees McCullum’s dislike of the term “Bazball” because he feels it “devalues” what the team has achieved in the space of four consecutive Test victories.

Speaking to the media at the second ODI between England and India at Lord’s, Key admitted his appointment of McCullum in May had been a ‘gamble’, given that McCullum had never coached a team before. red ball of his life, but he was happy to have been vindicated by the team’s surprising upturn in fortunes, amid more than 270 consecutive chases culminating in an England record 378 to beat the India at Edgbaston.

“The way the Test series went was really nice,” Key told Sky Sports. “I never thought it would turn out like this. I loved that it seemed to capture the imagination of the audience. It wasn’t part of the plan but [Ben] Stokes and McCullum somehow managed to do it. They got the best out of so many of these guys, that’s what the bet was, really.

“But I’m not crazy about ‘Bazball’,” he added, echoing McCullum’s sentiments from last week. “That’s not our term, and it kind of devalues ​​what I think those guys did. That doesn’t mean you can only play the Test team if you’re going to be someone who’s going to play a shot. That’s not what it’s about. They also absorbed the pressure.”

A truer reflection of the influence of McCullum and Stokes, Key said, came in the fine details of their handling of men in the New Zealand and India Tests.

“I was here when we beat New Zealand at Lord’s, and I walked into the dressing room,” Key said. “Joe Root had played that great shot and carried us home, but Ben and Brendon made a real point with Alex Lees, who got 20 and at this point hadn’t secured his spot – ‘the way you played there, it set the tone. That’s what we expect from you. It was the same with Jonny Bairstow, who had played some big shots. And then you see how it has a ripple effect later on. “

Key added that McCullum has also developed a way to reinforce his message outside the locker room. “Brendon will make sure he gets a lift on the floor with one of the players, so he can then work with them and start talking to them then, to try and get those players to break free and play their own version of Bazball, if you That’s what it was all about.

“You could have someone who was going to be a tough leader, who was going to be really tough on the players, or someone who was going to try to free them up and get them to express themselves better and play and achieve. their full potential,” he added. “That was the bet I had, and that’s what Brendon did.”

Regarding the change in mindset that occurred within the test team, Key admitted that some of the change was self-perpetuating – especially on the pivotal final day. of the second Test at Trent Bridge, where the decision to admit the day- five crowds free (a move subsequently replicated at Headingley and Edgbaston) helped create an expectation of entertainment.

“If you think back to Trent Bridge, the only option was to go there,” Key said, reflecting on a chase lit by Bairstow’s 77-ball hundred. “Can you imagine, that crowded pitch, everyone coming to see you… the only thing you couldn’t have done there was try to block for a draw.

“It sounds simple to say now, but that’s what you want to see, it’s just a better game. There’s something for everyone. In England, our culture is a bit like, ‘pay attention to that, you can’t do that.’ But what [the team] focus on what you box do.

“[People said], ‘you can’t do that against India’, or ‘you can’t do that against Australia’, or if the ball is spinning… Okay. That may be the case. But let’s just live for now, and try to play as well as we can, and face what’s in front of us.”

The first few months of England’s new era have not been entirely smooth, given the white ball team’s struggles to play with their usual freedom in the series against India. But Key dismissed the idea that the emphasis on testing had hampered the team’s style of limited overruns, especially with the T20 World Cup looming in Australia in October, adding that the most affected players by requests across formats – the fast ones over 90mph such as Jofra Archer and Mark Wood – are currently unavailable anyway.

“It’s actually not that complicated, because we have so many bowler injuries,” Key said, of balancing format priorities. “That problem will come when Jofra Archer is fit, when Mark Wood is fit. When you have these really quick guys, sometimes logistically you can’t do it.”

Andrew Miller is ESPNcricinfo’s UK editor. @miller_cricket