Brendon McCullum may not have the best records as captain of New Zealand, but he is instinctive on the field. Bharath Ramaraj explains why the New Zealand captain deserves praise for his imagination.
In the game of cricket a player’s worth can be judged by number-crunching. But there is a facet of the game where it is evident that just mundane statistics may not give you the desired result, and that is related to appraising a captain’s worth. There are statistics with win/loss ratios under a captain’s tenure which can give an inkling of his ability to galavanise the team into performing with guts and gumption and achieve a well-earned win. However, every captain isn’t necessarily blessed with gift-wrapped teams consisting of truly world-class players who with their magnificence turn the game on its head. That is when one has to look beyond pure numbers to assess a captain.
New Zealand’s enterprising captain Brendon McCullum has led his country to only two victories in 12 Tests, has lost four of them while drawing the other six. In One-Day Internationals (ODIs), he has captained his country in 30 games, winning 14 of them and losing 14 (one game had ended in a tie while the other has been listed as abandoned). It is a record that is nothing to write home about. But despite having a promising bowling pace attack ready to blossom, New Zealand still lack the strength and depth to be an ultra-consistent performer.
Hence, it won’t be right on one’s part to judge McCullum on mere numbers. Here is a captain who every time takes his troop to the field with that much needed authority to lead the side. With a dash of gambling instincts, twinned with common sense, he sets aggressive fields and is not afraid to come out with a bowling change that may seem unconventional.
Every one of us from time to time will get a gut feeling, but only few do have the courage to follow and implement it. McCullum seems to be one of them who follows his gut feeling. In the Test match played between England and New Zealand at Eden Park, Auckland last year, McCullum threw caution to winds by going for the jugular and bringing part time off-spinner Kane Williamson into the attack at the end of the fourth day’s play. Both Alastair Cook and Ian Bell had stonewalled New Zealand with infinite self-belief and immense concentration prowess. Williamson being brought into the attack though, perhaps led to both of them losing a bit of their zen masterly concentration prowess. From nowhere, Cook was dismissed by Williamson and he even snared night-watchman Finn’s wicket. Bell, batting with calm countenance started to now play with a fear of losing his wicket to a part timer. It shows that McCullum backed his instincts to the hilt.
There was an occasion or two in that series when the left-arm swing merchant Trent Boult would create a nice angle across the right-handed batsman and McCullum, not known to allow the game to drift would bring in the floating slip. He also used the short mid-wicket fielding position to good effect on tracks that were favouring batsmen. He shuffled his frontline bowlers well too. Actually, one of the main reasons New Zealand almost were able to upset the apple-cart in that series against the then fancied English side was due to McCullum’s dash of bravado as a captain.
Even in the ongoing ODI series against India, McCullum has won fulsome praise for his captaincy. He went in for the kill by using his spearhead, Tim Southee’s full quota of overs before the end of 40 overs in the fourth ODI at Hamilton. The plan worked as Southee got the wicket of Ravichandran Ashwin during his last spell. He would have likely been hit by brickbats, if that stratagem had flopped miserably. This is where a captain needs a bit of luck along with pluck, while doing something that seems unconventional.
A fine captain can make an average team look better. Brendon McCullum was appointed as captain in rather controversial circumstances last year. But since he has taken over as the captain, the mettlesome McCullum has led New Zealand with pluck. Emboldened by the way McCullum has captained the side, New Zealand team is finally showing some promise and gradually, they are winning games as well. Interesting times ahead for McCullum and his band of men.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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