Brendon McCullum has played down fears that England captain Ben Stokes risks being ruled out of this summer’s Ashes through injury if he plays in the Indian Premier League, insisting: “The Ashes is the script the skipper is waiting to write.”

In a wide-ranging interview following his side’s dramatic one-wicket defeat by New Zealand in Wellington on Monday – a Test McCullum described as “epic” – England’s coach also gave a clear indication he will keep faith with out-of-form opener Zak Crawley for the Ashes and that Jonny Bairstow is not certain to get back into the team to face Australia when he returns from a broken leg.

The issue surrounding Stokes and his long-standing chronic injury to his left knee is England’s biggest worry ahead of the summer, with the all-rounder admitting he was “frustrated” he could not fully contribute during the final Test in Wellington, a match where he only bowled two overs and was badly restricted by his injury when batting and fielding.

Asked if fulfilling his £1.6million deal with Chennai Super Kings and spending two months in India risked his chances of playing in the Ashes, McCullum said: “I don’t think he’s jeopardising it. The Chennai set up is excellent in looking after their players and they’ve a very good medical team and he will be well looked after.

“The skipper has a strong mind and he knows how to get right for the big moments. His life is that, right? So I don’t have any concerns. In fact I look forward to watching him play in it [the IPL]. When he leads us into the Ashes campaign he’ll have the bit between his teeth. I think we’ll be alright.”

McCullum, who has previously coached and played in the IPL, is close friends with Chennai head coach Stephen Fleming, who captained him when he first played for New Zealand.

“I’ll be talking to him and making sure he looks after the skipper,” he said. “But I know that Chennai set up. I actually played in that franchise and they’ve got an outstanding leader in Flem. He sees the big picture in everything so I’ve no doubt the skipper will be totally looked after and I also believe the Ashes is the script the skipper is waiting to write so he’ll be sweet.”

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McCullum also insisted there will be no backing away from Bazball when the Australians arrive this summer, with the coach determined to stick with the aggressive style that has brought 10 wins from 12 Tests. “I think it certainly does give ourselves the best chance of being able to topple a good Australian side,” he said. “And with eight or nine months of development of that style under our belt, we should be hard to beat.”

That means Crawley, with one Test hundred in 27 innings, retains McCullum’s full support at the top of the order. “Yes of course he does,” he said. “I have said he is one of those players who is going to be inconsistent because of the role he is asked to perform which is to impose himself on the opposition and try and play a style that puts them under pressure.

“Our team is set up at the top of the order for Zak to play like that. I have no doubt his talent will come out. The Australians, from my conversations with Ricky Ponting, respect him for the instinct and power he has at the top of the order and how destructive he can be. He is still a big player for us moving forward.

“You have to suck up the low scores. But the thing he can’t do is tweak and alter things too much because then you are trying to catch form. That is the challenge for Zak and we have had those conversations. He is fully on board and he has to trust in the game he has. If he does that who knows what he can achieve? We will find out I guess.”

With Harry Brook hitting four centuries in five Tests since replacing Bairstow, it means wicketkeeper Ben Foakes now looks the most likely to make way if the player who lit up McCullum’s first summer as coach with four high-octane centuries is to get back into the team for the Ashes.

But McCullum has hinted Bairstow is not necessarily an automatic pick to come straight back in. “There is a lot of quality players to get in the XI,” he said. “There will be opportunities. What we can’t do is try and crowbar people in. We need to take stock when the first Test arrives and we will make the call from there. One thing we are not afraid to do is be brave in selection.”

‘It was a wide’ – what we learned from England’s last days in New Zealand

Blundell admits umpire blunder

New Zealand wicketkeeper Tom Blundell has admitted England probably should have avoided defeat in the incredible final Test at Wellington because Neil Wagner’s penultimate delivery to James Anderson should have been called a wide.

Instead umpires Rod Tucker and Chris Gaffaney judged the bouncer that was way too high for Anderson to hit was a legal delivery and Wagner sealed the dramatic one-run win when Blundell took a stunning catch off the next ball. Had Wagner been penalised the scores would have been tied and, freed up by the fact England could not lose, Anderson may have even hit the winning runs.

“It was probably definitely a wide, going on the replay so a little bit lucky there,” Blundell told Newstalk ZB. “To win a game like that was bloody incredible.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 28: Neil Wagner of New Zealand celebrates his wicket of James Anderson of England caught by Tom Blundell during day five of the Second Test Match between New Zealand and England at Basin Reserve on February 28, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Neil Wagner of New Zealand celebrates his wicket of James Anderson (Photo: Getty)

Kiwis go Barmy for trumpeter

New Zealand Cricket came to the rescue when Barmy Army trumpeter Simon Finch, a professional musician who has worked with Blur, had his instrument damaged during the opening Test in Mount Maunganui. “One idiot just decided to come over whilst Finchy was holding his trumpet and lean in snatch it out of his hands and run away with it,” Chris Millard, the group’s managing director told the New Zealand Herald.

But once NZC found out they offered to pay for the repair. New Zealand captain Tim Southee and bowler Matt Henry presented the repaired trumpet to Finch before the final Test at the Basin Reserve. And Finch’s playing of “Maria” from West Side Story during the Test in support of Pat Cummins’ mother, who has entered palliative care, prompted words of thanks from the Australia captain, who has returned home from the tour of India to be at his mum’s bedside.

“This is amazing @TheBarmyArmy, thank you,” he tweeted. “Mum loved watching this and felt very touched.”

Basin’s roundabout popularity

One of the weird quirks about the Basin Reserve is it a giant roundabout on the edge of the city centre which has an estimated 50,000 cars circle it every day. The frequent blasts of sirens throughout a day’s play remind you of that. Such is its fame around the world – as a traffic-calming measure, not a cricket ground – is that it has featured on a calendar for the UK-based Roundabout Appreciation Society.

Founded by Kevin Beresford, who describes himself as “Britain’s dullest man”, the Basin appeared in the 2014 “Roundabouts of the world” calendar. For 2023, Beresford, also president of the Car Park Appreciation Society, released a Car Parks of Britain calendar, with the highlight being supposedly the UK’s most-haunted car par in Culloden, Scotland, where hundreds of people were killed in 1746 during the last major battle on British soil.

Bad man and robbing

Those of you watching the second Test on TV may have wondered what the dome-shaped structure on the grass bank at the Basin Reserve is. Well, it’s a memorial commemorating William Wakefield, an early English settler of Wellington.

The problem is Wakefield’s past is now being properly examined and questions are being asked about how appropriate it is to commemorate a man who was convicted of abducting a 14-year-old girl in England in 1827 and whose dealings with the Maori when he arrived in Wellington have been euphemistically termed as “problematic”.

In reality he scammed the locals out of land, leading to bloody conflict. Cricket Wellington and the Basin Reserve Trust admitted in a statement: “Cricket Wellington considers a discussion about this monument, and how it might reflect the current values of our diverse community, is timely.”

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