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Brendon McCullum a ‘bold and inspiring’ hire as England men’s Test coach, says Michael Atherton as he praises Ben Stokes pairing

Sky Sports Cricket’s Michael Atherton says Brendon McCullum is a "bold and inspiring choice" as England’s new men’s Test coach, and believes he and Ben Stokes will form a "fearless and aggressive" combination.

McCullum, the former New Zealand captain, was confirmed as Chris Silverwood’s successor on Thursday, marking another key hire for England after Rob Key’s arrival as managing director and Stokes’ appointment as Test captain.

McCullum lacks experience as a red-ball coach – he is currently in charge of the Indian Premier League’s Kolkata Knight Riders franchise – but Athers gave his approval of the appointment of the Kiwi legend, 40.

"I think it’s a very bold and imaginative choice, and an inspiring choice from Rob Key," Atherton said.

"Giving Ben Stokes the captaincy was the obvious choice and so his first big decision was to give Brendon McCullum the Test job.

"A week or so ago I don’t think that was on anybody’s radars, so he’s not made the obvious choice here, but I think it’s a very bold choice."

McCullum has vast experience as an international player and captain but little as a coach, with his post-playing career so far having taken him to the IPL and the Caribbean Premier League.

But Athers added: "I don’t think it’s a concern. Some other people within the professional coaching environment may think so.

"His limited coaching experience has come in the IPL with the Kolkata Nightriders and in the CPL with their sister team. But he did play 100 Tests, scored a Test match triple hundred and he was very significant in Test cricket in his own right.

"As captain, he really led New Zealand into a brave new era, from the moment he took over – in Cape Town 2013 – the very first innings New Zealand were bowled out for 45. It was a really low ebb and a very difficult transition from Ross Taylor.

"But after that, he led boldly and fearlessly, and transformed that New Zealand team to the point which he laid the foundations for Kane Williamson’s team that became World Test Champions, and have been very significant players in ICC events. So as a captain and as a leader, he’s got plenty of experience in Test Match cricket."

‘McCullum and Stokes an aggressive combination’

McCullum joins forces with Stokes to form a pivotal combination in England’s bid to revitalise their Test fortunes, and Athers believes the pair will mesh together well.

"He’s a nice fit with Stokes, they both approach the game and play the game in a similar manner and they’ll look to give very clear message, captain and coach, and show they’re singing from the same hymn sheet to a team you now expect to be given a bit of freedom and licence to play.

"Neither Stokes or McCullum are shy characters when it comes to playing the game of cricket, they like to take the game on and play it aggressively.

"One assumes that McCullum as a coach is going to be very similar to McCullum as a player and captain."

Athers also highlighted the two reasons he believes Key opted for McCullum.

"One is the combination of Stokes," he said. "There’s a chapter in Rob Key’s autobiography where he talks about coaching and he says that the combination between captain and coach is absolutely critical.

"I think he wanted somebody that he feels Stokes could work with. I think Stokes will have a lot of regard and respect for McCullum for what he did in the game, so it’s a good combination.

"And secondly, Rob Key will know what McCullum did with the New Zealand team in that 2013 to 2016 period, and will hope that he can inspire England to do the same. We know that McCullum has got experience of transforming a situation and a group of players.

"I don’t think you’re looking at a guy that’s going to be a particularly technical coach. I think Rob is looking for Brendon to inspire, to lead, for some of his character to rub off on an England dressing room that has had a pretty difficult time of it for two years."

Athers continued: "I think there’s a sense of optimism on the back of Stokes being made England captain, and that optimism has been given a bit more of a boost with McCullum."

McCullum’s in-tray: Changes at top order?

McCullum is set to be in place for the first Test against world champions New Zealand at Lord’s on June 2, with England looking to bounce back with their new hires after a dismal winter.

Asked what players England will be looking for, Athers said: "One assumes that the Stokes-McCullum way is going to be on the aggressive side.

"They’ll have to decide what kind of players they want to have, we’ve already heard from Ben to say that he wants James Anderson and Stuart Broad back.

"They’ve then got 400 first class cricketers to have a look at."

He added: "I think the top order has been England’s biggest problem over the last two years. That top order has been particularly vulnerable.

"We know Root is going to go No 4, Stokes is going to go No 6, so the questions are around No 3 and No 5 particularly, if they want to keep the same opening combination that they had in the Caribbean. Zak Crawley’s been short of runs at the start of the year, Alex Lees has done alright, though he may not fit the kind of template that they’re looking for.

"You only really know Root and Stokes’ positions, so there are plenty of options as we come to the fifth and sixth round of the County Championship games, and opportunities for players to impress."

What about the white ball coach?

England are expected to make another appointment next week with a new white ball coach.

On that process, Athers admitted Paul Collingwood was the favourite but that England were right to "open up the process and speak to many people as they can".

"There’s pretty strong word that Matthew Mott, who has been in charge of the Australian women’s team, has been a strong candidate and has interviewed well," said Athers.

"But I think Paul Collingwood is the favourite and I wouldn’t be against that choice,

"I think he’s highly regarded and knows his stuff, and would form a good relationship with Stokes, Eoin Morgan and Joss Buttler – that senior group."

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