he most overt statement of Brendon McCullum’s style on the first day of the Lions’ tour match against South Africa came in his choice of trousers: white jeans. He is almost certainly the first England manager to don them.
McCullum was a quiet figure as the Lions coped on the field, only occasionally stepping out of his viewing position (and overwhelmed by excited kids looking for autographs). But his influence on England’s red-ball game can be seen at county level, and he spoke to the team before the game, reminding them that his door was open if they had any questions about what he was looking for. .
Craig Overton, Harry Brook and captain Sam Billings are the players who made the test squad. Overton said it was their responsibility to reinforce McCullum’s views.
“The main message for the boys was to try and replicate what the England team are doing at the minute,” he said.
The ‘bazball’ has always been more evident when England are batting than when bowling. But what he is looking for are wicket-seeking grounds and excellent catches, and the Lions provided as South Africa reached 282 for six. Overton and Ollie Robinson, who are both in the squad for Wednesday’s first Test but are currently not likely to start, played with the kind of tenacity expected of them.
“I think England coaches have a lot of thinking to do,” said Khaya Zondo, who was unbeaten in 86 for South Africa. “I think the two were definitely the toughest. They are always testing your technique.
Another aspect of the McCullum perspective is loyalty. Zak Crawley has had another quiet Test summer so far, peaking at 46 (admittedly in his final innings) and has since endured a series of low scores that pushed his class-leading average into the twenties.
“It is enormous [being backed]”Crawley told talkSPORT. “A lot of my England career you look over your shoulder wondering if this is my last game, how many do I have left? When you are supported by seniors, it gives you confidence, I will support myself and play my own game. This is my best chance to succeed. It means a lot.”
Crawley says his approach to a run in low form is to get in the net, rather than out of the game.
“I have the mentality to get in the net, to work hard,” he said. “Other people find it different, they want to get away from the game. A lot of people try to tell me that. I’d rather sort it out. If I feel like there’s something I need to improve , I’ll fix it. Then I can look in the mirror and say that if it didn’t work out, at least I did my best. I’m very confident that things will be fine for me for the rest of summer.
Today in Canterbury, the Lions batters, with Ben Duckett perhaps pushing the hardest, have the opportunity to pressure Crawley – and impress McCullum.