How Brendon McCullum made international cricket slightly better

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

It’s a familiar story to most of you, but it’s worth retelling.

Looking back on losing his first two Tests as captain to South Africa by more than an innings, McCullum told the New Zealand Herald:

“If we’re being honest, at that point the perception of the New Zealand cricket team was that we were overpaid, underdelivering, lazy prima donnas. And I was one of those prima donnas.

“We decided that we couldn’t win every game, but what we could do is change the way we played and the attitude towards us and the attitude within the group.”

There’s a lot of talk about brands of cricket, but McCullum’s New Zealand really did draw something up and then try and live up to it. A lot of this week’s paeans to McCullum have focused on the intent, but the latter part of the equation is not to be underestimated either.

Without sufficient talent, his team’s relentlessly attacking approach would have ended up as a great string of irresponsible dismissals and a series of massive defeats. They didn’t exactly conquer the world, but they bested a fair proportion of it and pretty much held their own against the remainder.

This approach turned New Zealanders into New Zealand cricket fans – a handy conversion for a game that often seems to be atrophying within the smaller nations. It turned cricket fans the world over into New Zealand fans as well and as a bonus taught everyone the valuable lesson that you shouldn’t conflate attack with aggression.

“We’re going to play an attacking style of cricket; in the field we’re going to chase the ball to the boundary as hard as we can; you’re going to see a team that works incredibly hard off the field; and you’re going to see a team that’s respectful and even-keeled in their emotions.

“We want to be known as a team that respects the game, works hard and plays attacking and innovative cricket. The country can cop us losing, but they can’t cop us being those other things.”

This isn’t necessarily about New Zealand’s being the perfect way to play cricket or anything. It’s more that the international cricket ecosystem had been lacking the kinds of checks and balances that McCullum’s New Zealand provided. Put simply, must positive cricketing intent go hand-in-hand with acting like a cock-faced bell-end?

No, not really. Who knew?

‘Everyone with half a brain’ you might answer, but yet there did seem to be a general feeling that even if positive intent weren’t inextricably linked to cock-faced bell-enddom, no-one on the international circuit was actually willing to try and disprove the theory.

McCullum’s New Zealand were willing and they proved their point unarguably by becoming pretty much the most attacking Test team there’s ever been while simultaneously forging a (somewhat unfair) reputation as pious nice boys.

Cricket in New Zealand is better for Brendon McCullum’s stint as captain and so is international cricket as a whole. Plus he played some innings. Top job.

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8 Appeals

  1. Ged’s back.

    As in returned.

    Although, given the weight of Daisy’s suitcase and the resulting back twinge lifting said case onto the baggage trolley…

    …but enough about me.

    Nice piece, KC. Sentiments endorsed.

    The English cricket season is now within smelling distance and Brendon McCullum is to spend part of the summer at Middlesex this year. How cool is that?

  2. I recall a banner at St James’s Park that read, “We don’t demand a team that wins. We demand a team that tries”.

    The funny thing is, even in football, the genuine fans know exactly what sport is about. The administrators forgot everything they knew decades ago. What they know is that all the genuine fans already go to watch, so in order to increase revenue they need to attract (and fleece) non-genuine fans. These are the fickle ones who demand winning at all costs, so that becomes the mantra of the administrators.

    Quite why increasing revenue is so important is something I’ve never really understood. I assume they see big numbers of money as some sort of compensation for being bullied at school for being an utter tosser.

    The players, caught between the real fans and the board, frequently come across as confused. McCullum’s statements suggest that he, almost uniquely in modern cricket, had clarity. He understood what it is about. We’ll miss him for that if nothing else.

  3. Contrast this with what the Aussies are saying – let’s pick one entirely at random – David Warner, say – complaining the NZ fans were taking things too far and demonstrating an uncanny inability to take it having previously given it out. He’s still looking for that line he/they will never cross, also. Cursing at the umpire apparently rests on the right side of the line. The contrast with Baz’s side and their approach couldn’t be in sharper focus.

    In other news, Peter Siddle’s back. As in, stress fractures! Long lay-off! etc etc.

    • King Cricket

      February 25, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Warner, crowd abuse, lines, hassling the umpire.

      It’s probably not worth your reading tomorrow’s Cricket Badger. Everyone else, sign up to receive it here: http://www.sportsbadger.com

      • I’ll probably still read it anyway… I also look forward to a bit about Joe Burns being ‘hit on the helmet’ by Wagner despite the latter’s bowling-hand-finger-injury hamperment.

        W*nking Hand.

        Marathon spell.

        Burns Helmet.

        Neil Wagner.

      • Always worth reading Badger. There’s always a chance that someone else crawls out of the woodwork who, back in the days of yore, once saw Bob Willis on the train.

      • King Cricket

        February 25, 2016 at 5:20 pm

        Don’t know what’s more amazing: how often we used to hear from people who’d seen Bob on a train or how rarely we do now.

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