Brendon McCullum hails England captain Ben Stokes’ ’empathetic’ leadership

By Sports Desk February 06, 2024

Brendon McCullum credits the inspirational leadership and “total conviction” of Ben Stokes for giving England a fighting chance of leaving India with a series win.

The score is tied at 1-1 after two gripping Tests in Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, giving England a realistic shot at becoming the first side to win away on Indian soil since 2012.

Head coach McCullum will lead his side to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday for a short break before the contest resumes on February 15 and, while the players will be resting up with family rather than hitting the nets, he insists they will be ready to “drop the shoulder and go hard” when they return for the third Test in Rajkot.

A crucial part of England’s ability to do just that so far has been the contribution of three novice spinners in the form of Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir, who have defied their lack of experience to claim 26 wickets between them against players who have grown up against the turning ball.

And McCullum was glowing about Stokes’ ability to instil belief in the group.

“There are heaps of positives. Our spin bowling unit, albeit young and raw, have shown they’ve got what it takes,” he said.

“I put it down to the skipper. He has total conviction in his methods and is incredibly empathetic towards people.

“He spends time with them to ensure his messaging is really consistent, in his body language and behaviours, and he backs up what he says to them off the field with opportunities on the field. He is desperate to lead this team and he wants to take this team to whatever level he can take it.

“I am absolutely delighted in how they have performed with very little experience under their belt. You look around and you just see guys who look like they belong at international level.

“I think 1-1 is probably a fair reflection of where the contest is at the moment and, if the next three Tests are anything like these last two, it’s going to be one hell of a series.”

A return to form for Joe Root would be the biggest possible boost for England’s prospects, with the former skipper yet to make an impression with the bat.

A total of 52 runs from four innings represents a meagre return for a cornerstone player with a strong case for being the country’s best ever sub-continental batter.

The manner of his most recent dismissal, slogging wildly at the wily Ravichandran Ashwin, caused consternation, but McCullum harbours no such concerns.

“There are three Tests left, still an opportunity to score a whole s*** ton of runs,” he said with a smile.

“Joe’s a world-class player and as good as anyone England has ever seen.

“People will look to the dismissal, look at the method of his option, but he was trying to get the field back so he could milk them.

“It is the bravery you have to show at times and sometimes you get out doing it, that’s just the way the game rolls. There is no doubt from our point of view about that approach.”

England are not currently anticipating any changes to their Test squad for the second phase of the trip.

A virus has made an unwelcome intrusion on the camp but should be gone before the series resumes and concerns over Root’s injured little finger have eased.

There is no expectation of Harry Brook returning to the tour, with the team management giving him space to deal with the family matters that brought him home on the eve of the series.

The only uncertainty surrounds Jack Leach, who injured his knee in Hyderabad, missed the next game and has now been hit by illness.

“It is still pretty inflamed, but I don’t really know because he has been crook,” McCullum explained.

“His knee is pretty bad though and it was remarkable he got through what he did in the first Test match.”

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