Brendon McCullum has promised England will “drop the shoulder and go hard” at India after returning from a mid-tour rest in Abu Dhabi without their cricket kit.
The series, dubbed by England’s head coach as a “heavyweight fight”, is perfectly poised at 1-1 after the tourists’ 106-run defeat in Vizag, as they leave India for the sort of break with their families that is increasingly a feature of modern touring.
McCullum said there would “not be a whole lot of training” in Abu Dhabi, despite the facilities being so good that England chose to prepare for the series there. This time the order is relaxation with families, to the extent that players are not expected to take their cricket kit with them.
One who will, however, is Dan Lawrence, the reserve batsman, who will turn out for Desert Vipers, the franchise team he was playing for before he was called up to cover for Harry Brook, who is at home due to a family emergency and not currently expected to return.
In what is surely a first for an England player on tour, Lawrence is expected to play for the Vipers in the ILT20 on Friday and Sunday this week. He is likely to be the only player to do so, despite others having affiliations to teams in the league.
“It will be pretty relaxed,” said McCullum. “There will not be a whole lot of training. The boys have worked incredibly hard in Abu Dhabi keeping in mind they all came here with a lot of cricket under their belt as well. We have had plenty of training days, two varying Test matches and this is an opportunity to step away from the heat of the battle.”
While the move had the potential to offend their hosts, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has laid on a charter flight to facilitate the trip, which ends on Monday when England fly back to Rajkot for two days’ training ahead of the third Test. Later in the tour, there is another long break, during which England will stay in India.
During the Ashes last summer, Australia’s players took holidays across Europe with their families – taking in locations such as Amsterdam and Majorca – in order to recuperate during a sapping series. McCullum promised England would return ready to “drop the shoulder” – a rugby expression in his native New Zealand which means to aggressively charge at the opposition.
“I was talking to Rahul Dravid [the India coach] and he mentioned all his boys are shooting home as well,” he said. “Home for us a little way away so we chose Abu Dhabi and we are going to enjoy the families. Then when we get to Rajkot, we drop the shoulder and go hard.
“We sit 1-1 which is a fair reflection that we’re in the contest. We’ve played some really good cricket over the last two Test matches. Yes we have come out on the wrong side of it here but we got it across the line in the first one. The conviction about how we go about it as strong as it ever has been.
“It is not good losing but we walk away saying we gave it a good crack in this Test match and India are deserved victors.”
Spinner Jack Leach ‘pretty crook’
As England leave the country, there are a couple of headaches to manage. Senior spinner Jack Leach looks increasingly unlikely to be available for the third Test because of the badly-bruised knee he picked up in the series opener in Hyderabad. He is one of a number of players to have gone down with a nasty virus, but he is said to still be in pain and has not yet been able to train.
“I don’t really know [how the injury is] because he has been crook,” said McCullum. “His knee is pretty bad and it was remarkable he got through what he did in the first Test match. It is still pretty inflamed and he is back at the hotel pretty crook. We had a number of guys who were ill in the Test too and whether it was a virus or not we’re not sure. Ollie Pope and Tom Hartley in particular too but they did not want to shirk it. We will never use that as an excuse but hopefully that will subside in the next little while and we will see where Leachy sits for the next one.”
The other issue is Joe Root’s batting form, but McCullum has predicted that he will score a “whole s--t-ton of runs” when the series resumes. In England’s doomed chase of 399 on Monday, Root fell for a frantic 10-ball 16, which gave him a tally of 52 runs for the series, but McCullum is confident that he will rediscover his form.
“He’s a world-class player and as good as any player England has ever seen,” he said.
“His method in the second innings, whilst people will look to the dismissal, he was trying to get the field back so he could milk them. It is the bravery you have to take at times and sometimes you get out doing it but that’s just the way the game rolls. There is no doubt from our point of view in that approach. There are three Tests left, still an opportunity to score a whole s--t-ton of runs.”