Brendon McCullum says “there is no greater opportunity” for England to prove themselves than the “formidable” challenge of the Ashes series.
England meet Ireland in a one-off Test at Lord’s on Thursday before facing Australia at Edgbaston on 16 June.
They will look to regain the urn after a year in which a swashbuckling style has brought 10 wins from 12 Tests.
“It’s what you play sport for,” said England coach McCullum. “You want to play the best, on the biggest stage.”
The New Zealander told BBC Sport: “Australia have been a very good team for a long period of time.
“They will be a formidable challenge for us, but it’s one we’re really looking forward to. There’s no greater opportunity than what lies ahead of us in the next six to eight weeks.”
England have not lost a home Ashes series for 22 years, but have also not won any of the past three contests against Australia, including a 4-0 humbling down under 18 months ago.
That came as part of a wretched run of one win in 17 Tests, before McCullum and captain Ben Stokes took over, sparking a dramatic upturn of results in thrilling fashion.
Now, in perhaps the most eagerly anticipated Ashes series since England’s epic win in 2005, the hosts will look to take their batting aggression to an Australian attack that is perhaps the best in the world.
“We won’t be too prescribed with our method,” said 41-year-old McCullum. “It’s about being free of mind, being able to live in the present and whatever comes our way.
“If that’s a high scoring rate, great. If it’s not, that’s great too. We’ll just see what happens.
“Who knows if we’ll win this summer, but I know we will go into it with the right attitude, the right environment and a team that believes it’s got a chance.”
McCullum confirmed that pace bowlers James Anderson and Ollie Robinson, who have groin and ankle niggles respectively, will sit out the four-day Test against Ireland, but both are likely to be fit for the Ashes opener.
Chris Woakes, who has not played a Test for more than a year, and Matthew Potts are likely to join Stuart Broad in the England pace attack.
Captain Stokes did not bowl in England’s last Test – a defeat against New Zealand in Wellington – because of a knee injury. Since then he has had toe and heel problems during his stint in the Indian Premier League (IPL) with Chennai Super Kings.
McCullum could not confirm if Stokes would be fit to bowl against Ireland, but said the skipper would play a part with the ball during the Ashes.
“He looks really fit and in great order,” said McCullum. “He’s got a big smile on his face. He’s delighted to be back around the group. As a leader having that sort of energy is fantastic.
“He’ll bowl at some stage throughout the summer, no doubt. What he was able to achieve throughout the summer and winter away, the way he managed all his bowlers and when he was able to play a role with the ball he was very effective. We’ve got a really nice balance to our side. He is a world-class all-rounder. If he’s able to bowl, fantastic. If not, we’ll find a way.”
England’s only previous Test against Ireland came before the Ashes in 2019. Though England prevailed by 143 runs, bowling Ireland out for just 38, the home side were themselves dismissed for 85 on the first morning.
“It’s a good opportunity against Ireland, who no doubt will be excited to play in a fully fledged Test,” said McCullum. “Hopefully we can put our best foot forward, play the style of cricket we want and we’ll see where we end up with the result we want.”
Jonny Bairstow, fit again after nine months out of international cricket, will keep wicket in a Test for England for the first time since 2021.
He has replaced Ben Foakes, who has been England’s first-choice wicketkeeper for most of the Stokes-McCullum era.
“International sport is really tough and sometimes tough calls have to be made,” said McCullum. “There’s always going to one or two guys who can count themselves unlucky. Foakesy is one of those guys.
“It’s a tough call, but we’ve gone with the side that gives us our best opportunity. Foakesy was great when I rang him. He was naturally disappointed. He still remains a big part of this side, it’s just unfortunate that he was the one that missed one out this time around.”