Brendon McCullum became the first man to score two T20 international tons after a belligerent assault on the Bangladesh bowlers. For years, the wicket-keeper batsman has been a bit of an enigma – destructive, but inconsistent. Players like him can either decimate the opposition and comprehensively seal the deal for the team or fall early to the disappointment of the fans. When his on a song, McCullum is one of the most thrilling batsmen to watch in the T20 era as his innovative approach has revolutionised batting in cricket’s youngest format.
Perhaps the knock that brought him into the T20 limelight was the memorable 158 not out off 73 deliveries against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2008 – still the highest score by a batsman in the shortest version. What made that occasion memorable was the fact that it was the inaugural game of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and he provided the fireworks to celebrate its arrival. People tuned in to their television sets with curiosity to know more about the new concept and McCullum’s display made it clear that T20 cricket was going to entertain India in the years to come.
During that knock, McCullum dealt with the Bangalore bowling with rare arrogance. Without a care who the bowler was, he fearlessly sat down and attempted scoops over the keeper. Everything he hit, came off the middle of the bat. One of the cleanest hitters of the cricket ball, McCullum, even his flick off the pads blitzed to the boundary. On a number of occasions he would shuffle across the stumps and merely work it around the ground.
Jacques Kallis, Ashley Noffke, Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar were the main pacers on that day for Bangalore – which clearly isn’t the quickest attack. Two years down the line, McCullum did the unthinkable by performing an encore, against an attack that had the capacity to bowl serious thunderbolts. When Australia met New Zealand in a T20 international at Auckland in 2010, McCullum mauled the likes of Dirk Nannes and Shaun Tait. What was astonishing is that he continued to scoop Tait over the keeper even when he bowled around the 150 kmph mark. He finished with an unbeaten 116 off 56 balls.
Deliveries bowled at that pace reach the batsmen in a split-second, but McCullum still had the time to sit down and scoop the ball with a horizontal bat. In the last decade, we have seen the emergence of a number of innovative strokes particularly after the advent of T20 cricket. Douglas Marillier’s scoop took the cricket world by surprise as he would walk across and loft the ball over fine leg. Dilshan and McCullum modified that to suit their own needs and made it look even more thrilling.
The Dilscoop, as it called, is where the Sri Lankan would sit to sweep and then merely change the angle of his bat to guide it over the ‘keeper’s head. The McCullum-scoop looks more extravagant when compared to the Dilscoop because the New Zealander would walk across, bend his knee to sit and take the ball on the face of the bat. Over time, the shot propounded by Marillier has been used to target finer areas finer behind square-leg.
However, the more the thrill, the more is the danger. As a famous commentator once pointed out, a batsman should have a strong helmet and must know a good dentist to script such shots. Keeping aside the danger of losing one’s wicket, the margin of error is minute and in case they get it wrong – they are in serious danger of playing it on to their faces.
McCullum was coming into the ICC World T20 2012 at the back of a brilliant 91 against India at Chennai. A highlight of the innings was the way he dealt with the spinners and got into his groove as the innings progressed. New Zealand were in trouble early on and he tried to work his way around to get settled. Once he got his eye in, he unleashed an array of strokes around the wicket. More famous for his exploits against the fast bowlers, he charged the spinners and lofted them over the infield with ease. A hundred would have been a just reward for the effort, but it wasn’t to be.
Bangladesh may not be the strongest attack going around, but they have a strong battery of left-arm spinners. New Zealand batsmen aren’t the best at playing spin bowling and McCullum’s display may be a shot in the arm for them as they embark on a new campaign. For someone who used to open the batting, the last two knocks have shown that the No 3 spot is more suited to him. Perhaps it gives him a little more time to think and work his strategies before walking into the field of play.
McCullum is the leading run-scorer in T20 internationals with 1566 runs to his name. Interestingly, he averages 38.19 in T20 internationals – which is more than respective numbers in Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs). The T20 format gives him the license to express himself and go for the kill almost immediately. Nevertheless, he has the goods to produce good knocks in the longer formats and a consistent McCullum would be a welcome addition to the New Zealand roster.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)