If England are to fulfil their quest for World Cup glory, there will be a debt of gratitude to a former leader of Wednesday’s opposition.
Throughout the four years preceding the must-win meeting with New Zealand, the influence of Brendon McCullum has been omnipresent due to his close friendship with Eoin Morgan.
Thrust together as Kolkata Knight Riders team-mates in the Indian Premier League, they have become close enough for McCullum to perform master of ceremonies duties at Morgan’s intimate wedding in rural Somerset last winter and they are sounding boards for each other on cricket.
Eoin Morgan (R) has been close friends with Brendon McCullum since playing together in India
‘We just hit it off. We like racing, we like beer, we like golf, we like playing free-spirited cricket, we are very similar people and, while at quite different stages of our lives, our relationship is fantastic,’ McCullum tells Sportsmail.
‘He is someone I trust 100 per cent, he trusts me, and we’ve grown that friendship. We spend time together in New Zealand, here in England, and stay at each other’s houses. One of the reasons I wanted to play for Middlesex was because he was there.
‘It’s been amazing to watch what he’s done with this England side since he took over. He’s really shifted the thinking of how to approach one-day cricket over here, which is pretty awesome to see, and I haven’t been surprised that they have managed to keep up their way of playing as Eoin’s very consistent and has strong belief in his methods and his leadership.
‘He believes being positive is going to give his team their best chance and the match against India on Sunday was a great example of that — when they were under pressure to remain in the tournament, they played the way they always do.’
Morgan (L) and McCullum pose with the one-day series trophy at Edgbaston in 2015
The genesis of that development came in summer 2015 during a rambunctious series boasting an overall run rate of 7.15 — the best of any series of two matches or more — when England pipped McCullum’s Black Caps 3-2, with a thrilling decider at Chester-le-Street, scene of what has become the equivalent of a quarter-final for England.
Afterwards, players including Joe Root and Ben Stokes paid tribute to McCullum — who led New Zealand to a runners-up finish in the last World Cup — for providing the beacon to see beyond their previous 50-over gloom. Suddenly, England were charting territory they had previously feared to explore, posting 400-plus scores and attacking at every opportunity.
‘I would say it takes guts to try to play like that and it always gave me the greatest amount of satisfaction,’ McCullum adds.
‘I was prepared to take the risks of failing along the way because it gave me that sense of joy to play like that. I’ve always loved watching cricket played like that, so to get references from those sort of players is pretty amazing really.’
Jason Roy of England hits a four off the bowling of Kuldeep Yadav against India on Sunday
Now, the man