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James Anderson retires: Brendon McCullum & Ben Stokes show ruthlessness as England build for Ashes

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And so begins the long goodbye.

It is always head coach Brendon McCullum, rather than captain Ben Stokes, that delivers news to England players, whether it be good or bad.

This must have been the hardest, even for a master man-manager like McCullum. To look James Anderson – England’s greatest fast bowler of all time – in the eye and tell him it is time to move on.

Not quite Old Yeller or Lenny in Of Mice and Men, but a mortal wound delivered on a round of golf. If the Stokes-McCullum era is an epic sporting drama leading to a finale in Australia, then a beloved character has just been written out of the story. Dumbledore is dead.

Anderson deserved a face-to-face explanation, even if that meant McCullum being more than 11,000 miles away from home. Stokes would have been well aware, completing the circle of the skipper bringing Anderson in from the cold when he took the helm two years ago.

Any suggestion of a cosy England dressing room, of a lack of accountability so long as the Bazball Kool-Aid is guzzled, should be gone. This is a ruthless decision by Stokes and McCullum, who are born winners in charge of a team not currently winning.

McCullum talks about “planning to live forever, but living like you will die tomorrow”. England’s forever is the Ashes and so Anderson, who will be 43 when the plane touches down in Australia at the end of 2025, has been tapped on the shoulder.

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