Brendon McCullum scored 224 against India in the first Test in Auckland © Getty Images
Brendon McCullum scored a brilliant double century against India in the first Test in Auckland. His knock came at quick pace but was also a well-calculated one. The New Zealand captain took risks, but it paid-off for his team. Shrikant Shankar feels McCullum has improved as a player after becoming the captain and his knock showcased that.
Brendon McCullum has always been known as a batsman suited for limited-overs cricket. The shorter the format, the better he performs. He is the highest run-scorer by a long margin in Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) with 1,959 runs. He was never seen as someone to hit great heights in Test cricket. But McCullum is changing that perception slowly. He is nowhere the finished product, but in an age of aggressive batting, his style could even prove handier for New Zealand in Test cricket.
He scored a blazing double century against India in the first Test in Auckland on February 7, 2014. McCullum never looked in any spot of bother during the entirety of his innings of 224 off 307 deliveries. The New Zealand captain struck an astonishing 29 fours and five sixes in his knock. He propelled New Zealand to 503 in the first innings after having been put into bat by MS Dhoni on Day One of the Test. At stumps on Day Two, India were at 130 for four and trailed that total by 373 runs.
Clearly, McCullum has given them a great platform to work on and take a 1-0 lead in the two-match Test series. It was not only his batting, but his captaincy on field and his individual fielding. He is not the youngest in the side at 32 years of age, but he was electric in the in-field. He stopped many well-timed drives and flicks from the Indian batsmen. Rohit Sharma would have added more to his unbeaten total of 67 had it not been for the agile McCullum.
With his fielding, McCullum has led by example for his teammates and showed that after batting for a long time, he was still up for the task in hand and not resting on his laurels. His captaincy too was refreshing to watch. Michael Clarke was praised heavily for his captaincy during Australia’s 5-0 victory over England in the 2013-14 Ashes. Throughout the Indian innings so far, McCullum kept very aggressive fields as with as many as five slips. One could say that New Zealand had over 500 runs to defend and any captain would have employed such fields. But McCullum was innovative and his moves paid rich dividends for his team.
At times, he placed slips in varying positions and not in the conventional arch. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli were caught in the slips and it was partly down to McCullum’s captaincy. But his main highlight was his batting. McCullum’s individual batting record as captain of New Zealand is much better than when he was not leading the side. Below is a table showing McCullum’s overall record in Tests and his numbers when he is captain.
Note: Figures accurate as of February 7, 2014.
McCullum scores quickly and many times his style may get the better of him, but during his second double century, both have come against India, everything clicked for him. He took calculated risks and when he hit sixes, most of them were down the ground and with a straight bat. He charged spinner Ravindra Jadeja and whacked an array of sixes over long-on. His maturity as captain can be seen improving all the time.
He didn’t particularly take on the role in a rosy time for New Zealand. Ross Taylor was captain of New Zealand and his showdowns with coach Mike Hesson eventually led to McCullum being handed the captaincy. It was an uncertain time for New Zealand cricket as McCullum’s relationship with Taylor definitely strained in the aftermath. The duo are New Zealand’s best batsmen currently, so, the situation would not have been easy.
Under McCullum early on, New Zealand struggled as well till the turn of the year, New Zealand had a poor 2013. They were walloped by South Africa early in the year. Their fortunes seemed to improve in a home Test series against a good England side drawing all the three matches and in fact almost winning the last one. They then lost to England away and the low point was drawing a two-Test series against Bangladesh away. They were beaten by Bangladesh 3-0 in the following One-Day International (ODI) series.
But McCullum then led New Zealand to a 2-0 victory over West Indies in December 2013 and followed that with a 4-0 win over India in the ODI series. Slowly he is turning the fortunes of the New Zealand side and his own form. He has been part of the New Zealand setup for a long time and knows how things work in his country. In the ODI series against India, McCullum and Taylor seemed to be on good talking terms. One can say McCullum is using all his experience as a senior player in his captaincy for New Zealand. In his new avatar, McCullum is showing his improving maturity as a captain and a batsman.
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)