How McCullum would ask a ‘lift’ to ground from Ollie Pope, just to get talking serious stuff – Rob Key reveals how Bazball works in reality 

Even Rob Key, England’s director of cricket who appointed Brendon McCullum as coach and Ben Stokes as Test captain, is surprised at the team’s tremendous success. 

“I never thought it would work like this,” Key told BBC’s Test Match Special. “There will be times when it won’t work, but for now it’s been fantastic to see,” said Key who took over the role in April after England had stumbled to just one win in 17 Tests.

Key also admitted that Ben Stokes’s captaincy has surprised him: “Better than I ever thought.”

Key says he isn’t too chuffed with the term ‘Bazball’ because it “devalues what Ben and Brendon have done”. He says McCullum’s and Stokes’ ways is not as casual as’let’s play a few shots’, as the term has conveyed. 

“They’ve been so premeditated almost and methodical in the way they’ve spoken to people and that’s what’s made the difference and let them get to this point which is so much more than, ‘oh, we’re just going to go out there and look to be positive and play a few shots’. I’m not mad on Bazball the phrase, it’s not something I particularly enjoy because it devalues…”

Key then detailed McCullum’s way by giving an example of how the coach worked with Ollie Pope, who was struggling to hold a spot in the Test side despite obvious talent. The Ashes debacle had left Pope unsure about his place in the team, and the self-doubts accentuated after he was left out of the series in West Indies. Former England players had called his batting “panicky” and that he finds ways to get himself out.

“Brendon will at times on purpose say to one of the players like Ollie Pope “I can’t get to the ground, give us a lift” and that’s when he’s doing his work with them,” Key revealed. “There have been all these moments when they have made sure that they’ve used the right terminology and that’s what’s bred the confidence.”

Pope has already talked about the role of McCullum’s in his turnaround and how for the first time in his career  “felt like a proper No.3”.

“I was down in Cornwall having a few days away on the coast when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognise. It was Baz (McCullum) on the phone,” Pope had said. “I wasn’t expecting amazing news at the time, but he said ‘you’re going to be in the squad’. I remember having a little celebration with my dog – I think I gave her a first bump – and then he said ‘you’re going to bat three as well. That’s allowed me to play my game and given me a bit more confidence. I’ve started seeing everything in a bit more of a positive light because that’s what I do for Surrey and it’s what has brought me a lot of success. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed so far. Whatever you call it, the red-ball reset or whatever, I’m loving every minute of it. This is the first time I’ve felt like I can be a No 3 in red-ball cricket.

Key also spoke about what triggered his decision to appoint McCullum as the Test coach. 

“I saw it as though I had two choices,” Key told BBC. “Did the England team, the Test team in particular, need someone who was going to be like a drill sergeant, a real hard taskmaster who’s going to be really tough on them and try and drive them in that way?

“I felt they needed someone to just take the pressure off them a little bit. I wanted someone who, with the talented players that we had, just freed them up a bit and got them out there to be the best players they possibly can be.”

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