McCullum at home in Hyderabad as England arrive in ‘land of opportunity’

It was as recently as November that the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium was renovated with a new roof covering its stands. That explains why Brendon McCullum is gazing up at it like he’s been reacquainted with an old friend who has done something a bit different with their hair.

It might have also been the look of a man wondering if he could have put a dent in it in his heyday. Has he cleared the stands here before? “Not for a long time,” he said with a smirk before adding a more honest: “absolutely not”.

He gave it a good go back in 2010. A slap-happy Hyderabad special saw him blaze four sixes in a mammoth innings of 225. The striking was crisp, 26 boundaries all in, and the innings itself seemed a breezy affair despite taking the best part of six hours. It remains the highest Test score on this ground.

Over 13 years on, McCullum was back out in the middle as red balls flew around him during England’s first training session in India. The hosts’ lack of numbers for their optional session meant greater freedom for the opposition to roam. Most made a beeline for the pitch.

“It looked good,” McCullum said. “It looks like it’s going to spin.

“It may not turn right from the word go, but you’d think at some stage it will turn and I’m sure spin will be a huge factor throughout the series.”

Crucially, none of this was framed as a problem. Indeed there is a clear sense England have come into this tour with an edict not to let themselves be rattled by a home board curating their own pitches. McCullum even went as far as vouching for the groundsman, calling him “a good fella” who does “a really good job”. Years of embracing cricket in these parts – “a home away from home” – and the uncontrollables that come with it have left him with the view that the uncertainty should be relished. It provides the scope for something memorable.

“When we started out on this journey a fair while ago we wanted to provide as much entertainment as we possibly can,” McCullum said. “We felt that gave us the best chance as well. What better stage to do it on – against India, in India?

“There’ll be many eyeballs watching around the world and it’s a huge opportunity for us. India is the land of opportunity, and that’s what sits in front of us now. That’s the exciting thing. how long the games go, I’ve no idea but I’m sure both teams will stick to their respective styles. Throughout the Ashes, it was two heavyweights going at it with different styles, and I expect it to be the same in this series.”

There was more caution when discussing Ben Stokes, who McCullum likened to a “greyhound”, suggesting the captain’s recovery from an overdue knee clear-up is going as well as can be expected.

He was similarly non-committal on the keeping situation, which took on a new dynamic once Harry Brook pulled out of the tour for family reasons. Ben Foakes’ protracted training session with the gloves on Monday seemed to give the game away, though Jonny Bairstow may also start to cover for Brook’s loss. Meanwhile, Tom Hartley continues to impress and could be in line for a Test debut as one of the spin trio alongside Jack Leach and Joe Root.

There are still important decisions to ratify, combinations to sort, gut calls to make. And for all the good work under McCullum, bonhomie and a few rounds of golf do not make you immune to the sorts of errors that have blighted previous England tours.

But there is a prevailing sense of calm entering into battle with a team who have won their last 16 home series. A simplicity borne out of the fact there is more to gain than lose for a group of players seemingly blessed by perspective. And it was hard not to wonder if a tour of India, where McCullum’s legacy as a cricketer was cemented, is exactly the kind of series to underline his unique qualities as a coach.

“Obviously it’s no secret that we’re trying to enjoy ourselves as a team as well,” McCullum said. “And those things away from cricket are obviously super important to this side. A lot of our mesaging is consistent, not just around the cricket field but around daily life and that includes ennoying yourself.

“We’ve got to take 20 wickets with the ball in each Test match and we’ve got to get one more run than them with the bat. It’s not rocket science but it will be the nuances of the game, and when to stick and when to twist, which will be the fascinating part. That’s what I love about this series – we are going to be tested, and our methods are going to be challenged and we’ll see where we are at. But it’s a pretty exciting opportunity.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

Source website: www.espncricinfo.com

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