Nathan McCullum: Big Bash, English T20, IPL and CPL are vastly different

Nathan McCullum, the New Zealand all-rounder, is playing the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) for the St Lucia Zouks. Recently, he delivered a spell of four for 22 against a St Kitts and Nevis Patriots side featuring big hitters like Shahid Afridi and Marlon Samuels. On the sidelines of the CPL, Nishad Pai Vaidya caught up with McCullum and spoke to him about bowling in T20 cricket, containing the opposition, battles with his brother Brendon etc.

Excerpts from an interview:

CricLife (CL): You recently delivered a spell of four for 22 in a CPL encounter against the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots.  What’s your strategy in T20 against a power-packed batting line-up like that?

Nathan McCullum (NM): Try and not to get hit for six. I think it is about trying to understand where they are looking to hit you, where they predominantly score their big boundaries and looking to stay away from that. And, defending a lot of the time in T20 is what you do and attacking in only a few of the 24 balls you bowl. I think it is about understanding where they are going to hit you and what their strong shots are.

CL: Your One-Day International (ODI) stats show that you have 58 wickets in 80 matches, with your economy rate of 4.99 standing out. Would you say that your role is more of containing the opposition?

NM: Yes. In a bowling unit, there are all sorts of different pieces of the puzzle. If I go for 45-50 in my 10 overs and maybe take none, one or two, sometimes a three-for, then it’s great. It allows guys at the other end to generate opportunities to take wickets. I’ve managed to do that reasonably successfully. The economy rate’s there and you do want a lot of wickets obviously. For me, it’s not only about taking wickets but as an off-spinner, with the way cricket’s going these days, you have to be smart and be clear on what you want to do.

CL: Speaking of guys at the other end, you have bowled a lot with Daniel Vettori. What is it like bowling with him?

NM: It is fantastic! Dan is a very good mate of mine. He’s been able to offer a lot to New Zealand cricket. I’ve been lucky to be with him for a number of years, playing with him. I’ve learnt a lot of skills from him.

CL: How much has travelling for different T20 tournaments helped you grow as a cricketer?

NM: I think it is a hugely fantastic experience. I have managed to play in a number of countries now. I have played in the Big Bash, the English T20 competition, the IPL and now the CPL. All those are vastly different competitions. They’ve got their own excitement and energy about them, different cultural experiences. It is great to come in as an overseas player work with younger guys and others in the team and try and offer and impart your knowledge and experience to them. It is a great opportunity to be involved in different teams. It helps not only yourself grow and others grow as well.

CL: Ahead of the World Cup final, Brendon and you had quite a duel in the nets with you getting him out a couple of times. He too went after your bowling with the crowd getting involved in the battle. Was it a reflection of your days in backyard cricket as youngsters?

NM: (Laughs) Yes! I guess it was. It was good fun. It just shows the sort of state of mind we are in at the moment. Yes, cricket is a job for us, yes it is stressful at times and daunting. But, at the end of the day, it is a game and we played it because we loved it as kids. We play it because we it was what we wanted to do as youngsters. We used to play in the backyard, on weekends, and we still do that. We play the game because we absolutely love it and enjoy it. If you are not playing to enjoy the game then it takes you away from your natural skills and ability. That is something we have tried to embrace whether it be training or playing.

CL: You were inclined to fast bowling in your young days. There is a story about you turning to off-spin. How did this trade come about?

NM: It was when I was about 12. I was captain of the team and a young off-spinner had broken his arm before we went to a tournament. We didn’t have an off-spinner, the wicket was a bit dry and the coach said we needed someone to try and I did. I sort of looked at what was around me at the time and I was not a huge fellow, so I didn’t think I was going to be able to bowl express pace. I made the decision to turn to spin. Fortunately enough, I have managed to forge a career out of it and had the privilege to play for New Zealand and other teams around the world.

CL: You are mainly seen as an off-spinner, but you also have had this ability to deliver good knocks with the bat. One of your best batting moments was in the Caribbean when you hit a six in the last over to win a game against Sri Lanka in the World T20 2010. Do you feel that your bowling perhaps eclipses your batting efforts?

NM: Ross Taylor and I were talking in the bus yesterday about how we are going back to Guyana and the last time I played there was when we played Sri Lanka in that game. I have fond memories going back there. As an all-rounder, it is about trying to do whatever you can to offer to the team. To me, that’s bowling my off-spin, running around in the field and creating energy as well as I can, and obviously scoring runs in whichever situation I can. If we are under pressure, say five down and we need 200 runs or needing 20 off the last over, it’s something you get more understanding of your role as you get more experience. Sometimes, it is going to come off as a batter, sometimes it is not. You just have to deal with it.

CL: Players have often said that they enjoy being at the CPL. Where would you put this experience in terms of the fans, playing on the field etc?

NM: This experience has been fantastic. I have thoroughly enjoyed the CPL so far, not just the team but also everyone around it. The organisation has been very professional, it is well run. Everything has been tip-top. Obviously, the entertainment and the atmosphere, the crowd has brought to the game has been brilliant. It is a great spectacle and I only hope it continues to grow as the other ones are. It is a different culture and experience to other ones.


(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Mumbai-based cricket journalist and one of the youngest to cover the three major cricketing events — ICC World Cup, World T20 and under-19 World Cup. He tweets as @nishad_45)


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