MS Dhoni’s latest move to bat higher up in the order will result in the India captain making more impact in the game, believes former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum.
McCullum not only has had many on-field battles with Dhoni, he has spent lot of time with his Indian counterpart in the Chennai Super Kings dressing room.
Was McCullum surprised after Dhoni silenced his critics, at least for a while, by scoring a crucial 80-run knock at number four in the third ODI against New Zealand in Mohali?
“I am definitely not surprised. He is a terrific leader. I think now that he doesn’t play Tests and his focus is squarely on limited overs means he can have more impact in the game. That is why probably he has pushed himself up in the batting order. And he has delivered. That is what world class players do,” said McCullum, who is accompanying the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on his four-day visit to India.
He also praised India’s batting star Virat Kohli, who is in the form of his life.
“Yeah, definitely he is among the current top three (batsmen). I think he has been for a number of years now. With what he does in Tests and one-day cricket, he also had a fantastic IPL this year as well. His ability to be consistent in what is quite an inconsistent game, is a mark of how world class he is. And he is just 27. I think we should just enjoy the fact that we have got one of the geniuses at work over the next few years,” said McCullum.
Considering that Kohli is amassing runs across formats, comparisons with Sachin Tendulkar are inevitable.
“I think we should just enjoy the guy who is at the top of his game and is entertaining crowds all around the world. I think comparisons are so difficult in this game, there are different conditions, different eras, different circumstances but we should not fail in recognising that we have got an incredibly good player who is operating on the world stage at the moment,” said the inspirational leader, who took New Zealand to their maiden World Cup final in 2015.
McCullum went on to say it that can only be good for the Indian team if Dhoni and Kohli bat together more often, just like they did in Mohali on Sunday.
“You have got two very experienced cricketers who are very calm under pressure and know to win games. Chasing scores is not easy and they understand the art of it. The other teams will hope that they don’t bat together too often but for India’s sake, you are enjoying the fact that two of your leaders are performing in pressure situations.”
The 35-year-old took the cricketing world by surprise by announcing his international retirement before the World T20 earlier this year, when he was still at the top of his game.
McCullum remains in shape as he has still not stopped playing competitive in leagues all around the world. And yes, he is already to looking forward to next year’s IPL having recovered fully from a back surgery earlier this year.
Here today, for a change, McCullum was imparting his rugby knowledge to the kids along with members of the Delhi Rebels Rugby Club.
“It is definitely one of the challenges (to remain fit after international retirement) but you can overcome it if you stay physically fit, strong and motivated. I am still very much motivated. I am 35 years of age, I think I have still got three four years of competitive cricket left and hopefully I can perform.”
Talking about New Zealand’s performance on the tour of India, McCullum said the young team will learn a lot out of this experience.
“Look India is always a tough place to tour. It is incredibly difficult here, the conditions are so different to what we have back home. I think the guys will take a lot of learning out of this tour. I am sure in time we will see the benefits of how tough this tour has been for the boys,” he said.
Having scored plenty of runs in India, McCullum said doing well here depends on how fast one adapts to the conditions.
“It is just the nature of touring India. What we are brought up on, the wickets and the conditions, are so different from what you get here. So it is a matter of trying to adapt as quickly as possible. I think some of the guys did that, especially Latham (Tom). I think he has been outstanding through out the tour in a really tough position (opening).
“Kane (Williamson) also got some runs and he is required to score a lot more. In the end, you are not going to come over here and have instant success. As long as you are taking the learnings out of this experience, and continue to develop your game when you leave these shores, I think that is really important for a young team,” he said.
Earlier in the series, pacer Trent Boult had said that noone can lead the team as well as McCullum. The former captain however backed current captain Williamson for a long run.
“I think Kane is going to be an incredible leader. At such a young age, he is already very mature. He is a world class player. I think the team is just finding itself in tough circumstances and you just have have to be careful that we don’t judge them too harshly on this tour because it is a tough place to come to. I am sure over the coming months, the leadership which is in place will stand up in their own conditions,” he said.
Asked about the ordinary performances of seniors such Ross Taylor, who McCullum himself criticised in his book, he said: “It is not for a lack of trying for all those guys. It is a tough place to tour. I know the guys are incredibly determined to perform over here”.
So has there been any positives from the tour?
“Latham’s batting has been a huge positive. Luke Ronchi is a big positive, I thought the bowling group stuck to their tasks really well too. Again early stage for spinners Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner but I thought they performed really as well. I think the other thing is that India are the number one Test team in the world. It is not easy come over here and compete against them.”
Commenting on the health of the game, McCullum felt that all three formats can co-exist. He also thinks day-night Tests are good for the five-day game, having led New Zealand in the first ever day-night Test, against Australia, last year.
“I was skeptical about its existence at the outset when we played the debut match. But I think if you look at the success of that and the last couple of games, we have seen exciting finishes. As long as you get the pitches right for the different ball (pink ball), after all day night cricket is about the ball which is meant to allow you to play cricket in the night. As long as we have that, it is an outstanding acquisition for the cricketing fraternity,” he said.