Brendon McCullum has insisted that England’s thrilling, narrow defeat against Australia in the first Ashes Test has not tarnished his team’s freewheeling approach to the game.
McCulllum said that despite sustaining the third defeat of his 14 matches as red-ball coach he had “had an absolutely amazing time”, and that it was only a bit of bad luck in key moments that denied them victory.
England’s head coach contends that the fact “everyone left entertained” means that, despite narrow defeat on the field, his approach once again proved a success. Sky’s viewing figures certainly suggest the game caught people’s attention, with its peak audience hitting 2.12 million, the highest it has recorded for a Test match, and an average audience across the fifth day of 1.17 million.
“Obviously you’d rather have won the game,” McCullum said, “but the way that we played, I think it’s validated our style of play. If we’d have got a little bit of the rub of the green then we might have been on the other side of it. I’m really proud of the boys to be honest.
“I thought their application to how we want to play right throughout was superb. A couple of things didn’t quite go our way at times, that’s the nature of the game, but we firmly believe, the skipper [Ben Stokes] and I, that this gives us our greatest chance.
“I would be very surprised if there was too many people who disagree with how we go about playing, because everyone was left entertained. You’re not always going to win and we understand that. We want to keep getting up and throwing punches as a team, and I’m really proud of the way the guys played.”
Though Stokes said in the moments after the game ended that his players were “in absolute pieces” and “devastated that we’ve lost”, McCullum was in more chipper mood. “I had an absolutely amazing time,” he said. “I thought it was an amazing match with two very different styles of play, but like a heavyweight boxing match not everyone has to fight the same. I’m sure everyone that watched all around the world and everyone who was here at Edgbaston absolutely loved it – and that’s us included.”
England are optimistic that Moeen Ali will be able to play the second Test at Lord’s, which starts next Wednesday, despite wearing a hole in the skin of his spinning finger through repeated contact with the seam of the ball, which limited him to 14 overs in Australia’s second innings and forced Joe Root to bowl 15.
“We knew heading in that we had someone who could fill the void if things didn’t quite work out,” McCullum said. “But I thought Mo did a fabulous job – he bowled a couple of jaffas and that was what his role was, to try and make breakthroughs with the ball and with the bat try to disrupt it a little bit, and he did that pretty well too.”
McCullum was similarly enthusiastic about the performance of Jonny Bairstow, despite the missed stumpings and dropped catches that have led to renewed calls for Ben Foakes to return as wicketkeeper. “I thought they were pretty tough mistakes,” McCullum said.
“I’ve kept over here, it’s not the easiest place to keep. But I actually thought Jonny kept really well throughout. I think he found a natural rhythm and did a really good job, and him coming in at seven is a real weapon for us as well.”
Having had a first sight of Australia’s plans to counter England’s attacking play – which notably included spreading run-saving fielders on the boundary from the very first ball of the match – McCullum said England would be more attacking still in the second Test.
“We don’t worry too much about the opposition,” the New Zealander said. “I had a bit of an inkling they might try and put some sweepers out, and it’s hard to argue because they won the Test match, right? I’m sure they’ll stick solid to that strategy, which I think is great because we’ll go a little harder and I think it makes for a really entertaining next few Test matches.”
England’s determination to make the game exciting did not protect them from an International Cricket Council fine for slow over rates, with both them and Australia docked 40% of their match fee and deducted two World Test Championship points. The Test was the first of a new WTC cycle, with the decision leaving England on negative points in the nascent table.
More happily for England from the post-match update is that Root, who scored 164 runs for once out across the Test, has leapt five places to top the batting charts in the ICC rankings.
Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Travis Head, who occupied the top three positions a week ago, drop to three, six and four respectively with Usman Khawaja, who scored 206 runs across his two innings, moving up two places to seventh.