Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014

Brendon McCullum’s challenge: To get the best out of his squad

The New Zealand squad seems a happy unit with Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Hesson sharing a good rapport from their days at Otago (AP) The New Zealand squad seems a happy unit with Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Hesson sharing a good rapport from their days at Otago (AP)
Posted: February 20, 2014 2:21 am | Updated: February 20, 2014 12:12 pm

It’s been a hot summer, both on and off the field, for the New Zealand cricket team, with the home calendar for international assignments concluding with a resounding draw — enough to secure a rare Test series win against one of the best Test teams in the world.

It has been an ‘Indian Summer’ for Brendon McCullum and the Black Caps, with the Indian and West Indian sides visiting New Zealand.

Much to the delight of every cricket fan in New Zealand, McCullum and his team have come out on top in both Test series, performing with a consistency not seen by watchers of New Zealand cricket for decades.

Success in the shorter formats against both sides also bodes well for the ICC World Cup next year, when New Zealand will enjoy home advantage while co-hosting the tournament with Australia.

But the talk of the summer really has been the side’s much improved performances in Tests and it has come with McCullum leading from the front — with newfound self-control and a sense of calm. This has brought some balance to a character who has never backed down from a challenge and has played high-risk high return cricket in the past.

McCullum, the number-one ranked batsman in the ICC’s ratings for T20, has curbed his natural strokeplay and accepted the responsibility to lead the side. He has bailed them out of several difficult positions this summer — none more perilous than during the last Test, when he strode in the team were 94/5 in the 2nd innings, still 152 runs shy of making India bat again.

Knuckling down

That’s when McCullum really knuckled down. In BJ Watling, he found a partner with who he could temper his natural aggression and inhibit his instinctive desire to destroy the bowling attack in a very public display of disdain. His 775-minute stay is the longest innings on record in Tests by a New Zealander. He also became the first Black Cap to score a Test triple-century — two amazing feats made even more impressive because they were achieved by the man who is currently the world’s best batsman in the shortest form of the game.

The signs are there that McCullum has come of age and has an understanding of his game that, hopefully, sets him up to achieve the greatness many bestowed upon him at an early age. He has always been a leader, regardless of whether he had the Captain’s “c” next to his name. Unfortunately, the controversy that surrounded Ross Taylor’s removal from the top spot tainted the new regime and quite possibly, stunted McCullum’s and the Black Caps’ growth at a time when a raft of young continued…

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