When Kolkata Knight Riders had decided to bring in an inexperienced Brendon McCullum as their coach for the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 edition, the management was seeking a crucial differentiator that would transcend the customary coaching reshuffle most IPL franchises undergo every few years.
After the side faced a terrible slump in 2019 with Jacques Kallis at the helm, KKR CEO Venky Mysore wanted to break away from the mould in making his next move. Despite T20 cricket being dynamic and data-driven, Mysore believes that the format needed a visionary who could hold all the permutations and combinations at once while approaching every game. Once the requirement was clear, finding the personnel was a cakewalk.
IPL will forever be indebted to Brendon McCullum for “that innings at M Chinnaswamy”, which had not only obliterated the slightest chance of IPL becoming a failure but had also rewritten T20 cricket’s history forever. If McCullum had already changed the way T20 cricket should be played as a player, there was not any reason to believe he couldn’t repeat the feat as a coach.
THE T20 ACUMEN
Having won the Caribbean Premier League title in consecutive years (2017 and 2018) as a player, with the Trinbago Knight Riders, Brendon McCullum was a risky choice for a coach this time. Having West Indian veterans like Kieran Pollard, Darren Bravo and Sunil Narine in the squad, McCullum’s authority was bound to be questioned.
However, there has always been an aura about how McCullum speaks and thinks, which have always enchanted the dressing room. The Trinbago Knight Riders weren’t any different and their belief in the coach paid off in the most magnificent manner as they created history by becoming the first team in CPL to lift the title while remaining completely unbeaten in their domestic season.
While Indian Premier League is a different ball game altogether, which was evident in KKR’s first match against Mumbai Indians, McCullum had already started pulling the strings from the dugout. Instant tweaks in starting eleven for their next match against Sunrisers Hyderabad saw KKR playing all cards right as they saw off SRH in a low-scoring game, something Hyderabad has been excelling in for years.
Barring Mumbai Indians, hardly any team in IPL has their player roles so pristinely defined over the years – something which has been a major difference between the four-time IPL champions and the rest. Chennai Super Kings’ success has solely hinged upon MS Dhoni’s captaincy, which remains irreplaceable and unsustainable.
However, KKR has come closer to Mumbai’s tactics with the appointment of Brendon McCullum. The biggest debate for KKR last season was prolific Andre Russell’s batting position. With the muscular wielder at his best ever form, his promotion up the order was contemplated time and again until KKR failed to get into the playoffs.
McCullum was asked to solve the conundrum immediately after his appointment and his stance was clear. “Russell hit 54 [he hit 52] sixes last season. He came out of the telephone box on so many occasions,” McCullum said, “His game is definitely suited to probably the last ten overs of a T20 game where he can really control it.”
Of course, McCullum remains extremely practical in his approach and if the matchups present themselves earlier in the match, he won’t think twice before sending in Russell. Captain Dinesh Karthik’s promotion up the order ahead of Nitish Rana and Eoin Morgan have been a welcome change. Hence, KKR would expect more experiments with player combinations now than batting order.
KNOWING T20 INSIDE OUT
A huge advantage that KKR hold over most other IPL franchises is McCullum’s massive experience as a T20 player. From Royal Challenger Bangalore coach Simon Katich to Kings XI Punjab’s Anil Kumble, to Delhi Capital’s Ricky Ponting, IPL is filled with former Test players helming T20 cricket teams.
Brendon McCullum enters the arena having played 71 T20Is and 370 T20s across the domestic leagues across the world. It is no secret that England’s 2019 ICC World Cup-winning squad was heavily inspired by Brendon McCullum’s 2015 World Cup team that had reached the final by beating England. The all-out offensive approach had seemed so enigmatic to the England Cricket Board (ECB) that they spent the next four years building a team around that blueprint.
McCullum believes in optimizing most of what he has and taking controlled risks to get the job done. All of KKR’s new imports – from Tom Banton to Ali Khan – are small pieces of the big puzzle that McCullum is creating, and it is a matter of time before the world witnessed it in full glory.
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