Brendon McCullum is organising a week-long team-bonding camp for England’s Test players in New Zealand next year as part of the new head coach’s philosophy of maximising off-field enjoyment and relaxation.
A feature of England’s remarkable winning start to the Test summer – four successive run-chases that peaked with a record 378 against India at Edgbaston – has been a loosening of any rigid training demands by McCullum and his captain, Ben Stokes, with players given greater say over their pre‑match preparation.
The midnight curfew that has been in place since the start of the 2017‑18 Ashes has also been temporarily lifted on the night of each victory and with the restrictive biosecure bubbles now removed the squad has shed much of the collective anxiety that hampered the previous two years.
In a sign of the new approach, plans are under way for England’s red-ball players to spend a week in Queenstown, on McCullum’s native South Island, before their two‑match series in New Zealand next February. No media will be allowed, no cricket will be played and a range of activities are expected to be laid on, including golf and adventure sports.
It contrasts with the gruelling Bavarian boot camp organised by Andy Flower before the victorious 2010-11 Ashes tour but is in keeping with the mood that has prevailed this season. Players can arrive at the ground only 30 minutes before the start of play if they do not intend to warm up, particularly on batting days.
Stokes, who revealed he was pondering this approach while still a player in the ranks, said: “The first chat with Baz [McCullum] was: ‘Yeah we can do it this way – why not?’ As long as everyone goes out there at 11am – or 10.30am this last game – and is comfortable in knowing that their preparation has been done in the way they want as individuals to go out and perform, then why wouldn’t you do it like that?
“The warmup thing was me saying: ‘Why are we going to warm up when we’re batting? What is the point of doing a few run-throughs to go up and sit in my training kit again? It has taken away all the external pressures that playing international sport gives you.”
Another novelty is a renewed look at the role of nightwatchman: in the run chases at Lord’s, Headingley and Edgbaston, Stuart Broad was padded up as next man in with instructions to slog quick runs, rather than bat through to the close. This role, dubbed “Nighthawk”, has not yet been deployed but is eagerly anticipated.
Asked about the aggression he and McCullum have brought to the setup, Stokes replied: “I think a better word is positive. Looking at every situation we are going to find ourselves in and always looking at what the positive thing to do is.
“For example [on day four at Edgbaston] we renamed what nightwatchman is all about. We called it ‘Nighthawk’. That was Broady. He was going out with half an hour left to play to try to literally slog. That’s where we are at the moment: it’s awesome.”
Stokes said he did not mind if the Nighthawk made “30 runs off 10 balls or nought off one” and added: “I want 11 selfless cricketers representing their country going out there and playing cricket and that is what we have got at the moment.
“It isn’t just with the bat. That always gets the plaudits because of how exciting it is but even with ball in hand everybody is committed to the cause of the plans we have in place. We want to create a legacy of Test cricket. We have done that in white‑ball cricket and we have seen other teams follow in those footsteps.”
Meanwhile, Moeen Ali will leave Worcestershire at the end of the season after signing a three-year white-ball deal with his boyhood club Warwickshire. As the Guardian recently revealed, the 35-year-old’s move comes after turning down a more lucrative offer from Yorkshire.