Brendon McCullum’s captaincy was soiled at birth due to having arrived via the feculent womb of Mike Hesson, but just because Hesson’s man management skills are staggeringly inept, doesn’t mean McCullum is a bad captain.
Commentators always talk about asking questions of a batsman. This is rarely a verbal thing (and even when it is, the questions are usually rhetorical). Instead, we infer the questions the bowler appears to be asking using the ball. They’re usually things like “Can you judge when a ball’s going to hit your off stump?” or “Have you learnt to defend or dodge the short ball?”
It’s hard to judge field settings on TV, because half the time you can’t always see what’s going on, but we got the impression that New Zealand’s questions derived from the field settings more than what was being bowled. The bowlers did much the same thing with each delivery but McCullum tinkered with the field to alter the balance between risk and reward for the batsman. He would add a gully or leave an inviting gap and he seemed to change things frequently so the batsman was forever having to recalculate what they should and shouldn’t do.
It’s the kind of approach you use when the opposition are 200-0 and the ball’s doing nowt. It’s not Plan A.
It’s not Plan A because an intelligent, switched-on batsman should always be able to weigh that risk-reward balance and play appropriately. That England manifestly failed to do this says a lot.
Learning to answer questions
Andy Flower admits that England weren’t properly prepared when they arrived in the UAE last year. Supposedly, they learnt from this and we’re meant to believe that the series victory in India is proof of this. But is it?
Maybe they learnt to play spin better, but did they also learn how to prepare properly? The lesson from the UAE wasn’t ‘prepare properly when you’re about to face spin’ it was ‘prepare properly’.
Maybe it’s unfair to make these judgements at this early stage, but we feel like we’ve just seen a combination of one-day batting and rusty thoughtlessness. Test cricket isn’t just about facing fast bowlers and mystery spin. Challenges come in many forms, as McCullum has shown.
It’s not enough to think your team is full of ‘class’ and that this is all you need. When good players play badly, your team will be soundly beaten and in a three-Test series, you don’t really want to go one down – if only because that makes Mike Hesson look good and nobody’s happy about that.