England v New Zealand: McCullum waiting to see which England is authentic

New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, seen inspecting a bat during practice at Headingley ahead of the second Test with England, which starts today, says his side play aggressively but without resorting to 'some of the periphery stuff' (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, seen inspecting a bat during practice at Headingley ahead of the second Test with England, which starts today, says his side play aggressively but without resorting to 'some of the periphery stuff' (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
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BRENDON McCULLUM has suggested that the attacking cricket served up by England at Lord’s was more of a rogue shaft of sunlight than a resplendent new dawn.

The New Zealand captain questioned whether it marked a sea-change in strategy or whether it was, in fact, a fortuitous accident.

England gave McCullum and New Zealand a taste of their own medicine with an aggressive performance that brought victory in the first Test by 124 runs.

But as he looked ahead to today’s second and final match at Headingley, McCullum said it remained to be seen whether England’s much heralded approach was an accurate reflection of their natural style.

“I just wonder if that style is authentic to them, and we’ll find out over a period of time,” said McCullum.

“For them, it’s probably more authentic to play a slightly more conservative brand of cricket, but they have some aggressive players who seized the moment during that Test match.

“If we can negate those guys, I guess we may see a slightly different style of cricket.

“The challenge for England is: what is their authentic style? What is the style they want to be known for as a team?

“Was their last performance the way they want to play the game? Or was it more a case of maybe stumbling on it? That’s a challenge for them to work out.”

A hailstorm of hyperbole attended England’s performance at headquarters – a reflection, perhaps, of how bad things have been lately as much as how good they were in London.

Alastair Cook, the England captain, believes his side can play that way more often, but acknowledged that the Lord’s pitch facilitated attacking cricket – exemplified by Ben Stokes’s 85-ball century in the second innings, the fastest hundred in a Lord’s Test.

Such a style is certainly natural to New Zealand, with McCullum receiving criticism for being too attacking during the first Test. His response yesterday was to defend his tactics.

“I make no apologies for how we play the game,” he said. “We need to play an aggressive and innovative style of cricket because we’ve seen over the last six series that we’ve been undefeated playing that way.

“This is how the New Zealand cricket team are playing, and there are going to be times when we get beaten.

“I was a little bit surprised (at the criticism), but I feel that’s our greatest opportunity to win Test matches and series.”

McCullum made no apologies either for New Zealand’s sporting approach.

In stark contrast to the Australians, for example, the Kiwis have demonstrated a capacity to play hard, fair and successful cricket without recourse to sledging and posturing.

“It doesn’t matter what you say; it’s what you do,” said McCullum, who needs 88 runs at Headingley to become only the second New Zealander after Stephen Fleming to 6,000 Test runs.

“The style of cricket we play is aggressive without all the rubbish, I suppose. Every team’s different but, for us, we know that we have to focus on executing the tasks at hand versus getting involved in some of the periphery stuff. That doesn’t work for us, and we need to keep our focus on the cricket.”

Never more so than this week, perhaps, when New Zealand would plunge to seventh in the Test rankings should they lose or draw, which, in turn, would see England climb to third. McCullum is confident they can turn things around.

“We’ve got some very good players in our group,” he stressed. “Scoring 520 in the first innings (at Lord’s) is testament to that.

“It’s not panic stations; we just need to improve a couple of our rough edges. I still felt we played a good Test match in that last game, and while we were disappointed to have lost, we still scored over 730 runs and took 20 wickets, which, on most occasions, if you put those sorts of numbers up on the board, you’d probably say you’d win the Test match.”

New Zealand are without Corey Anderson (back). Luke Ronchi is expected to debut in his place and keep wicket, with BJ Watling to play as a specialist batsman if he recovers from a knee injury and Doug Bracewell on standby.