For Ian Smith, proof of Brendon McCullum’s place in the New Zealand pantheon came on an otherwise normal Tuesday morning in February 2014, as his side prepared for the final day of the second Test against India at Wellington’s Basin. Reserve.

The game was heading for a draw, but McCullum hadn’t been out overnight and was closing in on his country’s first triple century test. A nation listening to a moment of history.

“There was a queue in front of the ground of guys in suits from the central business district,” says Smith, once New Zealand’s wicketkeeper, now the country’s main cricket broadcaster. “They knew very well that they might only see for half an hour. But they were there early to see him land his triple. He packed the grounds. He was immensely popular.

Brendon McCullum hit a triple century against India in 2014 in the game’s longest format

McCullum has now been tasked with trying to turn the tide on England's tests

McCullum has now been tasked with trying to turn the tide on England’s tests

McCullum eventually fell for 302, having beaten for 12 hours 55 minutes – a weighty counterpoint to the argument that he was always at his best chasing fast runs. Perhaps just as importantly, the innings confirmed New Zealanders’ suspicions that they had another local legend on their hands, a figure to rank with Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe.

Now McCullum’s first task as England’s new Test manager will be to fend off his compatriots, led by Kane Williamson, in a three-game series starting at Lord’s on June 2. Homecoming pride at his appointment is tinged with uncertainty. How will New Zealanders react?

“We never saw that coming,” Smith says. “And now his first job is to beat us!” We’re not too used to that. We’ve seen it with rugby, as Steve Hansen and Graham Henry both coached Wales. But that didn’t bother us too much, as Wales didn’t beat the All Blacks – and none of them were ex-players.

“Brendon McCullum is a brilliantly regarded and successful player for New Zealand. That’s how people want to be remembered. He could now coach England first to victory over New Zealand. Zealand. The ratings for this series were already going to be good. Now they are going to be very good. The fans here are going to follow McCullum in a new way.

Ian Smith admitted he was surprised to see McCullum get the coaching role with England

Ian Smith admitted he was surprised to see McCullum get the coaching role with England

England set to face Kane Williamson's New Zealand side next month in three matches

England set to face Kane Williamson’s New Zealand side next month in three matches

“The other thing a lot of people will ask is why he’s not New Zealand’s coach.” But our coach, Gary Stead, did a hell of a job. I don’t think Brendon even considered coaching New Zealand.

Smith, who played the last of his 63 Tests in 1992, knows McCullum well. The two worked separate three-hour shifts on radio station SENZ, and Smith expected his friend to return to work once Kolkata Knight Riders – the franchise coached by McCullum – were eliminated from the IPL.

Because of this, Smith admits he was “pretty shocked” by the news. “I had a feeling he could be considered for the shorter forms of the game – that’s the expertise the world knows him for.

“But when his name came up for the test job, I had no doubt he would get it. Once he’s looking for something, he throws all of Brendon McCullum into it. I felt he would be well prepared to go through any interview process: he is so good at portraying who he is.

“It’s an exciting meeting. That’s probably what English cricket needs. There’s a hint of risk and gamble about it, but it’s McCullum – he’s a player. If the immediate task is to end England’s 17 Test winning streak and avoid equaling their worst six-game losing streak, then McCullum also spoke of the wider challenge of “reinvigorating the oldest format in the game – with England. vital success for the cause.

Smith thinks Rob Key took a calculated risk in appointing McCullum

Smith thinks Rob Key took a calculated risk in appointing McCullum

“That’s exactly how I see it,” Smith says. “Test cricket needs a very healthy England. I’m a huge Ashes fan – it’s one of the best things about cricket. It’s no good if it has to be one-sided, as it has been. There’s just over a year between now and the next series, and Brendon and Ben Stokes – and don’t forget Rob Key – will want to get England to the point where they can go after Australia at home.

“It will be on the whiteboard, and he will follow it step by step. He’ll think about that in the distance as much as anything. Much has been made of McCullum’s breakthrough three years as New Zealand captain and his embrace of the All Black’s ‘no di**head’ policy. But Smith says it would be wrong to expect too many dramatic interventions.

“He’ll decide quickly if a guy is up to it, but he’ll be proactive rather than ruthless.” Put it this way: it won’t recommend perseverance when it’s not needed.

“In England the captain is more powerful as an entity than in New Zealand. He will want Ben Stokes to be the man, but he will give him everything in terms of attitude and energy. He and Stokes are cut from the same cloth: actions speak louder than words. They will be a good mix together. And it will be a clean slate – the only history they have together is as adversaries.

Smith expects McCullum to marry well with new England Test captain Ben Stokes

Smith expects McCullum to pair well with new England Test captain Ben Stokes

“His thinking is to push the game forward. You saw what he did with the 50-over game. His attitude was, if we’re going to play this format, let’s make every ball count. The ODIs went through a static period between overs 20 and 40, where it was a ball race and people didn’t care too much about taking wickets.

“Brendon’s not one to let a game drift. He thought, ‘That’s not right. Every ball matters to me. So he was trying to hit every ball on the rope, and on the field he wanted to get This is where he will help England in terms of attitude.

As proof, Smith recalls McCullum’s last Test, against Australia in Christchurch in early 2016. “He came out in his last innings and got the fastest hundred in the history of Test cricket, almost like s wanted to say: I left, but don’t forget me.

If the chances were already slim, they are now non-existent.


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