Brendon Mcullum’s England team puts their best foot forward in a test for new resolve

Ah, but what about South Africa? Sure, that didn’t work at first. A defeat by an innings and 12 runs in three days at Lord’s drew much pent-up ridicule from the sidelines, most of it from traditional supporters – many of them English – who were somewhat disappointed by the suggestion that they were the ones who got this format all wrong. Get victories by an innings and 85 runs and nine wickets to win that series with ease. Six wins out of seven, two series in the bag, another 2021 all-square. What were you worried about?

Now, of course, the ever-changing “gotcha” has moved to “can you do it in a sunny (but cold) and maybe also hot and sweaty month in Pakistan?” And to be fair, quite rightly so. Just as those hypothetical stumbling blocks were posited early in Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes’ tenure, so the challenge of taking this high-wire act overseas is an entirely new one.

“We’ll find out,” McCullum shrugged, when asked how different things could be here compared to the English summer. “There will be times when it can be more extreme with regard to the conditions, there will be times when we have to absorb more, and there will be times when we have to absorb more of the weather. I think that could be the difference between playing in for example English conditions and these games. But we will find that as long as the lads live in the moment and they go into it with a positive attitude, we give ourselves the best chance.”

There are no preconceived ideas for England’s first visit to Pakistan in 17 years. “Be where your feet are” and “when you’re present, give yourself a better chance to adapt” were two phrases that stood out when McCullum almost talked about tactics, without ever taking off his shoes to put a toe in to stab. those waters. He didn’t go all out on Henry Cooke saying “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. But he wasn’t far away.

However, McCullum appreciated that the contrast between home and away will be palpable this week. The first test, which begins in Rawalpindi on Thursday, will have shorter days, with play starting at 10am as the sun bids farewell to the Irish not long after 5pm. Circumstances will of course be different.

And if the crowd turns out to be as packed as it sometimes is during the summer, it’s unlikely they’ll be that supportive. “But we can still bring that same sense of faith to the group,” McCullum said. “Having the same ambition to play entertaining cricket and, hopefully, when the time comes, win the key moments. Isn’t that the biggest challenge? To win away from home and be successful.”

As much as the UK-based noise and funk is about to be brought about 4,000 miles away and five hours ahead, there’s something tangible at play here that will have a domino effect on cricket at home. So much of the domestic game is up for grabs right now, whether it’s the high-end rating or private equity interests. But the England Test coach’s opinion is one that matters. And it’s when you run the line over two of his picks – Liam Livingstone and Rehan Ahmed – that you get an insight into McCullum’s thoughts on where the domestic game is right now.

Ahmed’s addition to the full team last week – always been a plan, said Rob Key, the team director – is no doubt an educated point. His displays in three first-class matches for Leicestershire, along with his limited overs work, both at Grace Road and Southern Brave, have shown him to be worthy of acceleration.

McCullum echoed many of the sentiments expressed by Key and Ben Stokes over the past week: “a diamond in the rough… who can spin the ball either way, dynamic in the field and has a power game and likes to play the game on a high level.” pace”. However, he decided to go a bit further, perhaps to avoid future questions if Ahmed just throws in the nets and carries drinks during this trip, which is a definite possibility as the pitches will be hard to predict.

“It’s nowhere near the finished article, we know, but what’s the alternative? Leave it in a system that may not necessarily come through as the product you’d eventually hope for. So we’re getting it here in and it’s a great kudos to the skipper and the older guys the coaches who we think we can help get his talent through faster if we can’t that’s our problem not his He’s a rare talent worth investing in, and we’ll make sure we try to look after him.”

It was a shot across County Cricket’s bow, although previous national coaches have administered the same. Duncan Fletcher was famously exasperated by the reversion of international cricket to the domestic codes and others have given out facsimiles of his complaints, especially on the subject of spin. Given the lack of reliable spin alternatives beyond Jack Leach, Ahmed’s shot – whether made in October or November – and Livingstone’s has merit.

When asked if it mattered that Livingstone hadn’t played a competitive red-ball game since August 2021, McCullum replied simply: “Not really. I think he’s a good player, so we’ll find out.”

That opinion is no surprise, as it was the whole premise of Livingstone’s selection. The idea Livingstone’s is the biggest draw, though that might be doing a disservice to his previous red-ball work, which is worthy of respect. All but one of the seven first-class centuries came in his first two years in the format. Although he’s been pulled in other directions by the cue ball, it doesn’t take you too long to grasp the logic to understand why he’s such an attractive proposition for this team.

“I’ve seen a bit of him on the T20 circuit and international cricket and enjoyed his style of play – he bowls off spin, leg spin, fields well and hits the ball out of the park – it’s hard not to get around it go. a player who plays like that.”

Apart from that, there is an opinion that Livingstone’s selection is a victory for English cricket. He has not struggled for offers elsewhere and was even the first draft pick for the BBL this season before being forced to retire for this Test series. At a time when boards are battling encroaching franchises, Livingstone’s presence on the team stands out as a statement.

“He’s behaving in a great way and in a great way. It’s a real credit to the skipper and some of the senior players within the group that one of the best T20 players in the world is desperate to be part of the squad , because of the goodwill that has been built up over the past few months.”

However, there is a feeling that McCullum’s suggestion that the Test side can itself make up for County Cricket’s shortcomings is untenable. And that’s basically what all the questions about his Testcricket brand were about: sustainability.

But maybe even worrying about that is missing the point completely. Internally it’s been about rediscovering the fun of Test cricket, and no one can say it hasn’t been the external effect. The dual objectives of success and entertainment have so far passed hand in hand. Even in defeat, who’s to say it won’t continue?

English test cricket has always been its own island, but right now you really feel like it’s drifting further away from its roots. And while that may seem alarming when you read it aloud, it may not be a bad thing at this point.

One of the most sought-after T20 batsmen and a fearless leg-spinning all-rounder battles for the longest format, in a part of the world where an England Test side has not set foot since 2005. Who knows how this will end in the next month, let alone beyond? Maybe it’s really about being where your feet are.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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