England will “keep throwing punches” after opening Ashes loss – Brendon McCullum

England will “keep throwing punches” after opening Ashes loss – Brendon McCullum

Head coach Brendon McCullum insisted England felt “validated” despite an agonising defeat in the first Ashes Test, and doubled down on the selection gamble of Moeen Ali.

England drove the game forward for the majority of five gripping days at Edgbaston but still find themselves 1-0 down with four to play after Australia’s more conservative approach carried them to a two-wicket victory in the dying moments of the final evening.

It needed a brilliant match-winning intervention of 44 not out from captain Pat Cummins to seal the deal, as England failed to defend a target of 281 thanks to his ninth-wicket stand with tailender Nathan Lyon.

England skipper Ben Stokes refused to entertain regrets after the match, commending his team for setting up a dramatic finish to a game that could have fallen flat due to a slow pitch and rain delays.

McCullum is cut from exactly the same cloth and he saw enough from his side to feel sure that their commitment to risky, aggressive cricket was the right way to go.

“I’m really proud of the boys to be honest. I thought it was a cracking Test match,” he said.

“I’m sure everyone that watched all around the world and everyone who was here at Edgbaston absolutely loved it and that includes us. I had an absolutely amazing time.

“Obviously you’d rather have won the game – that’s just the nature of sport sometimes – but I thought the way that we played validated our style of play.

The England physio tends to Moeen Ali’s injured index finger
A blister opened up on Moeen Ali’s right index finger (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We firmly believe, the skipper and I, that this gives us our greatest chance.

“Of everyone that has watched this game over the last five days, I would be very surprised if there were too many people who disagree with how we go about playing, because everyone was left entertained.

“You’re not always going to win and we understand that, but we want to keep getting up and throwing punches as a team.”

McCullum was equally undeterred when it came to questions over Moeen’s painful return to the Test arena.

The 36-year-old was tempted out of red-ball retirement after Jack Leach went down with a stress fracture but, despite producing a couple of superb wicket-taking deliveries, he was reduced to a peripheral role in the critical fourth innings after a blister opened up on his right index finger.

That left England relying heavily on Joe Root’s part-time off-breaks and invited speculation over Moeen’s place in the second Test at Lord’s next Wednesday.

McCullum suggested some thought would be given to possible call-ups – with Surrey’s Will Jacks the most obvious candidate – but was confident that the injury could be resolved in the coming days. If that is the case, he guaranteed Moeen another shot.

“You’ve got to have some ideas and some theories up your sleeve and some options as well, but I’m pretty confident that we can get on top of Mo’s finger,” he said.

“That will give us an opportunity to select him in the next game and if he’s available, he will be selected.

“I thought Mo did a great job – he bowled a couple of absolute ‘jaffas’ in the game and that’s what his role was, to try and make breakthroughs when he had the opportunity.

Jonny Bairstow in action for England
Jonny Bairstow dropped a couple of catches and missed a stumping in the match (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He’s got a big smile on his face, he’s loving being back playing Test cricket, which is testament to the game and also Stokesy and all the boys for making the environment one that you want to be a part of.”

Jonny Bairstow was another player who had some words of encouragement from McCullum after a tricky time behind the stumps.

He dropped a couple of catches and missed a stumping in the match, leaving some pining for the absent Ben Foakes and his imperious glovework.

Bairstow’s return from a broken leg and the emergence of Harry Brook at number five means Foakes will continue to be the odd man out and McCullum, a former international wicketkeeper, declared himself content with the status quo.

“I thought they were pretty tough mistakes to be honest. I’ve kept over here before, it’s not the easiest place. When the ball is spitting and bouncing out of the rough, it can be quite difficult,” he said.

“I actually thought Jonny kept really well right throughout. If you look at the way he progressed throughout the game, I think he found a natural rhythm.

“We know what he offers with the bat, him coming in at seven is a real weapon for us as well, so I think he’ll be better for the run.”