The scale of the red-ball resurgence over the last seven months is such that the scars of a horrendous run of one win in 17 before McCullum and Stokes took over seem to have disappeared. That stretch included a demoralising 4-0 defeat in Australia last winter which led to plenty of introspection in the domestic game – not least the publication of Sir Andrew Strauss’ High Performance Review.
Now, however, there is a belief among the England team they are more than a match for all comers in all conditions. Thus, the prospect of beating Australia for the first time since 2015 is a tantalising one.
McCullum has been reticent to look far ahead and has not been afraid to express his frustration at England’s Ashes obsession: “You guys do this all the time, eh?” he said when asked about facing Australia on the Karachi outfield. Nevertheless, with just two Tests against New Zealand in February and then a single home Test against Ireland before the five-match series starts at Edgbaston on June 16, he admits the challenge Australia will pose has entered the management’s thoughts.
McCullum believes efforts to reclaim the urn next season will rely on the experiences banked in Pakistan, which England will need to call on against a fierce adversary. “From our point of view, we will have loose plans about that stuff,” he said, when asked about the Ashes. “It is a big carrot down the line.
“At the same time, I want the guys to enjoy what we have been able to achieve here. Just like the summer the message is not look too far ahead. Let’s live in the here and now of what we have achieved. Let that sink it. It will take some time to sink in.
“I think it is the same with the success this team has had. We have to allow that to sink in because there will be tough challenges in time. And if you have not banked those good experiences, what have you got to call on?”
On Tuesday, Australia’s assistant coach Daniel Vettori credited his friend and former teammate McCullum for the turnaround he has instigated: “That’s Brendon’s nature,” he said. “There is positivity in everything he does.” He also anticipates an intriguing contest between a heavy-hitting batting line-up and a strong Australian bowling attack, who could provide Stokes’ charges with their toughest challenge yet.
“They are going to give it a go, it looks like,” Vettori said. “I think that is what everyone is excited about: that aggressive nature versus an exceptional bowling attack.”
But Mark Wood, the fast bowler who was crucial to securing victory in the second Test in Multan, believes England will relish the opportunity to continue to prove their doubters wrong.
“It’s more the fact people keep doubting us,” Wood said, when asked about the anticipation for England trying out their new brand of cricket against Australia. “You can’t go to Pakistan and do that. You’ll never be able to do that against India. Or against New Zealand.
“So it’s about [trying to] keep breaking records, keep trying to prove people wrong, play this way and show that, hopefully, other teams will take notice and think they have to be on their ‘A’ game to take on this England team.”
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
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