Tag: Brendon McCullum (page 1 of 2)

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.


Brendon McCullum remains very much himself

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Believe it or not, batting with positive intent isn’t actually a new invention. In the hundred-and-odd years of Test cricket, people did actually try it from time to time before now. Mostly they got out.

New Zealand were heavily beaten in the first Test against Australia and when Brendon McCullum arrived at the crease in the second they had lost three wickets for 32 runs. It was doing a bit.

At this point, McCullum had three possible options:

  • Get out immediately
  • Deadbat for a bit and then get out
  • Try and counterattack but get out

Saint Brendon yawned, stretched, rubbed the sleep from his scarred eye and instead walloped the fastest ever Test hundred. Like most of its creator’s best works, the innings was brilliant with unmistakeably rough edges. It was jousey, spawny, flukey genius.

McCullum has never been the best batsman in the world – he may never even have been the best batsman in the New Zealand team. However, in the last few years, he has unquestionably been the most exciting; the man who makes you think something is happening.

McCullum is a guy who sears his innings into people’s minds. His worst is atrocious, his middle ground pretty pathetic, but his best is quite simply better than anyone else’s best. His best leaves you not quite able to assess what’s just happened because you’ve never visited this place before.

Most batsmen would never even attempt to do what he does. A select few try and fail. Only McCullum has the gall to both try and succeed.

Shortly afterwards, New Zealand’s captain completed his final three-pronged lesson. An aggressive approach to batting has nothing to do with any other form of hostility; self confidence can be combined with self deprecation; humility is not a sign of weakness.

When did you think it might be your day, Brendon?

“Probably second ball when I had an almighty, filthy slog and it went over the slips cordon for four.”

And how do you feel about breaking Viv Richards’ record?

“I’m almost a bit embarrassed to go past him, to be honest. Hopefully he enjoyed a bit of the ‘stroke-making’, we’ll call it.”

This is McCullum’s final Test match. He wants the win. There can’t be many cricket fans who aren’t of a similar mind.


Is Brendon McCullum retiring too soon?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Yes. Yes he is. The answer you are looking for is ‘yes’.

Now that he’s a statesmanlike trendsetter and role model, the very embodiment of what cricket should be, it’s easy to forget that for many years Brendon McCullum was just a mediocre wicketkeeper-batsman who typically flailed then failed in the Test format. Despite short format successes, it was only around 2010 when he started looking like a semi-reliably devastating batsman in the serious stuff and there have been great fallow stretches even since then.

You wouldn’t say he’s exactly cracked it now, but last year’s performances were enough to see him named Conjoined Lord Megachief of Gold and if this year hasn’t seen such highs, it surely wouldn’t have been foolish to anticipate further impressive peaks to come. Those that preceded it were sufficiently lofty that even if he’s since declined, there was a very long way to fall.

But that’s not McCullum’s way. Nor is it most people’s way. You spend a long, long time working towards the top, but once you’ve reached your summit there’s typically little appetite for dallying around at fractionally lower altitudes. You may have acclimatised and it may be more comfortable than on the way up, but where’s the motivation? Far better to head back down to a shower and a nice warm bed and maybe watch a bit of telly.

 


When Southee and McCullum skinned England

Skinned them alive? Probably not. Skinned them undead maybe, for England increasingly seem like zombies. Asked to explain England’s latest defeat, all Eoin Morgan could muster was “braaaains” in a long, drawn-out moan. “Skiiiill” and “caaaaalmness” were also lacking.

In contrast to England’s rotting flesh, New Zealand have a surfeit of vitality. Of course it’s easy to run around like giddy schoolchildren when you’re winning – but New Zealand are winning, so run around like giddy schoolchildren they do. The word ‘intensity’ has long since been rendered useless through repetition, but Kiwi fielders gave some idea what it once meant.

They also have a captain who can pick his moments. England were at one point 104-4 when Daniel Vettori had found himself at the front of the Eoin Morgan cheap dismissal queue. Brendon McCullum brought Tim Southee back into the attack.

It almost certainly wasn’t the plan – Southee isn’t the designated 26th over bowler – but it was a vote of confidence and recognition that the 26th over could be transformed into ‘the death’ through human intervention. Sure enough, eight overs later England’s innings – and pretty much the match – was over. Tim Southee had 7-33 and had hit the stumps four times.

After that, Brendon McCullum had fun. Half of Steven Finn’s deliveries went for six, while a quarter went for four, but the meaningful damage had already been done by the bowlers. This was just the gleeful snapping of lifeless limbs.

As for England, what do they do? Bring in a zombie and drop a zombie or stick with the zombies they’ve got? There’s not much they can do. Three of their batsmen have played fewer than 20 one-day internationals and it was notable that 50-match Joe Root was the only man to offer resistance. Confidence takes a lot longer to build than it does to destroy – just ask Ravi Bopara – so further changes will only result in a net loss.

As ever, England didn’t know their team before the World Cup, so what turned out to be their first XI didn’t really believe that it was the first XI. A fair few of them had never played New Zealand before, let alone in New Zealand. Perhaps they can build a bit of confidence with a couple of wins, but the confidence borne of a couple of wins is a fragile confidence because it hasn’t truly been earned.

England looked alive when they walked into this tournament, but the World Cup has a way of shining a light on decay.


Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews: Conjoined Lord Megachiefs of Gold 2014

We’re never sure why people are so averse to comparing apples and oranges. They’re both fruit, after all. It’s not like comparing ox heart and communism. Like apples and oranges, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews are quite different, but also have rather a lot in common.

Why a dual award?

There were plenty of other contenders this year. Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t stop scoring runs and Steve Smith developed a real taste for the Indian bowling, while last year’s Lord Megachief of Gold, Dale Steyn, has become so relentlessly brilliant that people don’t even bat an eyelid when he takes 39 Test wickets at 19.56.

However, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews have been the players who have stood out for us. We have spent the last week or so trying to choose, but their cases are so different that it has been like comparing crisps with ennui. In the end, we decided that as captains of lower profile Test nations who have led by freakish example, they both have an equal claim to the title, even if they have reached this point via entirely different routes.

Cricket - Investec First Test - England v New Zealand - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England

The highs and lows

We’ll start with McCullum because his case is more obvious. Until recently, he has always been far better in one-dayers than Tests, but in 2014, he averaged 20.33 in one-dayers and 72.75 in Tests. But even that doesn’t really give the full story because between the middle of February and the end of November, he didn’t get past 50 in the longest format.

Truth be told, McCullum didn’t register a single Test fifty all year. He was only an ounce of extra heft away from not having made a score between 100 and 200 either. His 134-ball 195 against Sri Lanka on Boxing Day seemed an almost childishly needless means of pointing out to everyone that he could also score normal hundreds as well as doubles and triples.

New Zealand won that match – their last of the year – just as they’d won against India in their first match of the year when McCullum had made 224. One match later, he made 302 after his side had surrendered a 246-run first innings lead to earn an unlikely draw. You can’t say he doesn’t influence matches and nor can you say that he doesn’t make the most of good form.

McCullum’s crowning achievement came in November, however. Australia had just demonstrated how hard it is to even compete against Pakistan in the UAE, let alone win, and the ‘home’ team had at first carried on in much the same vein against New Zealand. But a Kiwi side hewn in McCullum’s stumpy-but-still-up-for-a-fight image was having none of it. They drew the second Test and then minced Pakistan in the third.

Mark Craig was man of the match, but McCullum made 202 off 188 balls. It’s hard to respond to something like that and Pakistan couldn’t.

England v Sri Lanka Investec Test Series 2014

The bit in-between

Angelo Mathews has been harder to spot. Not for him the double hundreds. In fact, even the single hundreds feel like aberrations. Mathews’ year has been almost the exact opposite of McCullum’s. He seems to have made 50 almost every time he has gone out to bat.

Only once in 20 Test innings was he dismissed for a single-figure score and despite only two hundreds, he averaged 77.33. If this is starting to sound like a celebration of mediocrity, factor in his one-day knocks and you start to get a feel for the scale of his achievement. Over 31 50-over innings, he averaged 62.20 and even when his team was rubbish, he was good. In five sad defeats to India, he delivered 92 not out after arriving with the score reading 64-3, 75 after arriving at 42-3 and 139 not out after arriving at 73-3.

Quite simply, he never lets his side down. At times in the past, he’s seemed a trifle bits and pieces. But nowadays his bits of bowling arrive alongside some magnificent pieces of batting.

His all-round performance at Headingley must rank somewhere reasonably high in some list or other of good cricket things. We’re not going to define that list or choose the ranking because that could only elicit nit-picking which is surely besides the point.

Mathews had taken 4-44 in England’s first innings when he walked out to bat. His side were 68 ahead with four wickets down and had just expended an extraordinary amount of energy in securing a nine-wickets-down draw in the first Test (a match in which he had made 102). Pretty soon, Sri Lanka were seven down and just 169 ahead. Surely the reservoirs of self-belief were running dry?

At the time, we wrote about how batting with the tail is an amorphous puzzle where your goal oscillates between singles and boundaries with the field waxing and waning constantly. In short, it’s mentally exhausting, yet Angelo Mathews took his side from 277-7 to 437-9.

Even then, he wasn’t done. England fought back through Moeen Ali. When you’ve poured so much into a game and it seems it’s still not enough, you can crumple or you can redouble your efforts. Quite how you accomplish the latter is beyond us, but that is presumably what Mathews managed in captaining Sri Lanka to their first proper series victory in England.

In summary

Between them, they’ve got it all covered. Take a bow, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews – the sides you captain are better for your presence. You are 2014’s Conjoined Lord Megachiefs of Gold.


Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling hang around for a bit

Imagine Brendon McCullum's actually wearing white and is holding a bat

Brendon McCullum is a positive person; the kind of irritating, upbeat character who can’t understand everyone else’s entirely logical can’t-do attitude to things. When he was joined at the crease by BJ Watling in the second Test against India on day three, he’ll have thought: ‘Okay, if we can just put on 352 runs for this wicket, we’ll be in with a shout.’

So he and BJ promptly put on 352 runs for the sixth wicket. When the two came together, New Zealand were 94-5 and 152 runs away from making India bat again. 123 overs later, when Watling was finally dismissed, they were 200 ahead. At this point, McCullum thought to himself: ‘Okay, if we can just put on at least 125 runs for this wicket…’


Brendon McCullum hits an actual hundred

Brendon McCullum is a man whose batting achievements don’t exactly tally with his profile. He’s bolstered his reputation with captaincy and wicketkeeping and the peculiar nature of his one-day assaults, but he basically has a very middling record with the bat. However, he has just scored his eighth Test hundred and helped New Zealand to a first innings position of rare heft against the West Indies.

McCullum’s approach is spectacular but often sees him depart for 62, even when he’s playing well. His captaincy is innovative and exciting, but his team still loses more than it wins. Perhaps just a little of the freeform jazz could be shed in favour of a decent bassline.

A friend of ours has a cool scar by his eye which is very similar to McCullum’s. He did it by accidentally headbutting a newel post while removing a T-shirt.


Brendon McCullum’s tactics in the field

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.

Asking questions

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.

Answering questions

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.


New Zealand opt to bat and then bowl on the first morning

Captain Brendon McCullum in more appropriate clothes

Brendon McCullum won the toss and elected to go home. Upon being told that the options were to bowl or bat, he opted for the latter. If it were a 44 all out kind of pitch, he’d have been vindicated.

Maybe McCullum was in two minds about what to do, in which case the good news is that South Africa still had to bat on the first morning of the Test. Or maybe in his role as opening batsman, he quickly assessed the pitch and concluded that his side needed to be bowling as soon as possible and just took it from there.

Either way, it was an exciting start to the Mike Hesson-Brendon McCullum era and completely justified the decision to humiliate Ross Taylor to the extent that he felt he couldn’t go on this tour.

Let’s relive the highlight. Here’s where New Zealand scored 11 per cent of their runs:

1.1 Philander to Guptill, 5 leg byes, big appeal first ball! Guptill got across his stumps and is taken on the pad but it’s missing leg stump. De Villiers chases the ball and throws at the non-striker’s end which results in four overthrows


The Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum captaincy thing

Okay, we think we’ve got to grips with what’s happened.

Mike Hesson said to Ross Taylor: “I don’t like you and I don’t like your face. I’m going to get a new captain.”

Ross Taylor replied: “Who the hell are you? When did you become New Zealand coach?”

Mike Hesson said: “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that I look like a young Dennis Taylor.”

Ross Taylor said: “Who?”

Mike Hesson said: “Dennis Taylor. The snooker player.”

Ross Taylor said: “You don’t really look much like him, you know. You don’t look like a cricket coach either.”

Mike Hesson said: “And you don’t look like a cricket captain.”

Ross Taylor said: “Oh,” and then looked at the floor so that Hesson couldn’t see that his eyes had gone a bit wet.

Mike Hesson said: “I want Brendon McCullum to be captain because I’ve known him longer.”

Ross Taylor said: “That’s a stupid reason for making someone captain.”

Mike Hesson said: “Come on. He needs it. He stopped keeping wicket so that he could become a batsman, but it turns out he isn’t all that good as a batsman so we need to give him a new job.”

Then everyone went to Sri Lanka for a bit and after New Zealand won the second Test and drew the series, Hesson realised that he’d look like a right dickhead for getting rid of Taylor, so he pretended that he’d wanted to keep him as Test captain all along, even though that probably wasn’t the case.

For his part, Ross Taylor feels a bit fed up and now he won’t answer the door.


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