NZ captain McCullum matures in time for World Cup mission
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — The Cricket World Cup which begins in Christchurch on Saturday may be the tournament that sees the full flowering of Brendon McCullum, not only as a batsman or as New Zealand’s captain, but as a man finally comfortable in his own skin.
McCullum’s feats with the bat in the past 14 months have already left little doubt he owns a place among the very best batsmen in the world, not just in one-day and Twenty20 internationals which once gave the best forum for the expression of his attacking game, but also in tests. In 2014 he became the first New Zealander to score a test triple century, followed that with two double centuries and amassed more test runs in a calendar year than any New Zealand batsman had done before.
More than that, as he toppled milestones and led New Zealand to unprecedented success — five test wins in a year, more than it had ever previously achieved — he seemed at ease with himself.
The often brash, sometimes combative McCullum who sometimes frustrated, sometimes antagonized fans and other players, seemed to have been replaced by a calmer and more thoughtful player, one more respectful of the game and his position in it.
Asked Friday, on the eve of New Zealand’s World Cup opener against Sri Lanka, how different the Brendon McCullum of 2014 may be from the Brendon McCullum who played his first world tournament in 2003, he replied: “Quite different, I hope.”
“When I was pretty young I was very naive, I hadn’t really traveled much and I didn’t really understand my game either,” he said. “I hope I’ve become a more rounded, a more worldly person who’s developed a bit of an understanding of the team he’s playing in, his position in the side and his position in life as well.
“In 2003 I sat on the sidelines and watched and tomorrow I get the opportunity to lead the team out, so it’s been an interesting ride — I hope I’m a better cricketer and a better person now.”
McCullum has no doubt that his recent individual success and the recent success of the New Zealand team are interlinked. One has fueled the other and the captaincy has given McCullum a new means to express a naturally aggressive nature, which he once made plain with the bat.
The development of the team over that time could be attributed to a number of factors, he said, including players feeling more comfortable within the group and the attitude and culture of the squad.
“I think we got that right and it gives us the greatest chance of success when we’re all in the right seats on the bus heading in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve got some guys who are starting to become world-class players and are starting to put out world-class performances and we’ve got some nice combinations.
“You throw all that in the mix and guys are going to benefit statistically throughout the year and I guess I was one of those guys who was lucky enough to cash in on the back of some of the hard work of other people as well.”
McCullum carries a number of heavy responsibilities within the New Zealand team and it is a measure of his maturity that he now bears those without complaint or histrionics.
“My job, I guess, is all-encompassing in terms of leading the team and opening the batting and trying to execute the strategy on the field,” he said. “Is there extra pressure? I guess there’s extra pressure on everyone, just because of the nature of it being a World Cup. I’m excited about it and I have high ambitions about what I want to achieve throughout this World Cup.”