Reason: NZ hero Brendon McCullum is absolutely, positively not a great captain

At Lord's Brendon McCullum threw away a series win because he is too in love with his own attacking image. He kept in ...
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At Lord's Brendon McCullum threw away a series win because he is too in love with his own attacking image. He kept in slips against Alistair Cook as he glided to 162 despite the fact England's captain was leaving the ball.

OPINION: Let's start with the positive, because a positive current flows through the veins of Brendon McCullum's captaincy. The man has fast twitch muscles in his head. He is easily bored. So he has to gamble, he has to go for it, he has to make cricket interesting. McCullum encourages New Zealand's players to be positive in nearly everything they do and their excitement triggers performance and commitment.

Ian Chappell, the great Aussie captain of the seventies, wrote about captaincy, "Make the cricket interesting. A captain shouldn't fear losing, but he should hate losing."

The captain who fears losing will bat out time early in a match. His bowlers will plod through their overs. The game slows down. His players slow down. McCullum does everything speeded up, from his furious chewing of gum, to his helter-skelter pursuit of balls to the boundary, to the basher-dasher style of his batting.

Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum applauds his team-mates after winning the second test at Headingley.
PHILIP BROWN/REUTERS

Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum applauds his team-mates after winning the second test at Headingley.

McCullum has brought energy to the team that wasn't there in Ross Taylor's time. To be fair to Taylor, he was being undermined from within. But Taylor's team did drift lethargically on occasion.

McCullum would never let a game drift. He would rather set fire to his cricket bag than a let an afternoon session pass by uneventfully. Most of this New Zealand team have followed their leader.

The players are thrilled to plug into the new attitude. There is even a constant energy in the slip cordon, among men who spend most of their day squatting in the sun, waiting for something to happen. New Zealand are playing interesting cricket.

That will take you a long way to the top, but it will not take you all the way. Chappell says a captain also needs, "common sense and a dash of daring".

No-one would dispute that McCullum has a dash of daring. One correspondent quoted the First World War maxim of Marshal Foch: "My centre is giving away. My right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking."

That is McCullum and the world is in love with him. Shane Warne and his ilk began the chant in the World Cup that McCullum was cricket's JFK, a charmer whose brilliance was changing the world order. Suddenly everyone was clapping along, just as they had with Kennedy. If enough people said the same thing, then it had to be true. The man was a genius.

Only McCullum is not a genius. For all the positives that he has brought to the New Zealand captaincy, McCullum is fundamentally lacking in that other Chappell virtue, common sense. In the rush of adrenalin, as he dives over the boundary ropes, flicking the ball back with a heroic sweep of the arm, McCullum cannot see past his own bravado.

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In the past few months McCullum's gung-ho attitude has cost his team their chance of winning the World Cup final and a series victory in England. The decision to bat first in Melbourne was crazy. It looked daft at the time and so it proved.

McCullum could not admit weakness. He felt that if he chose to bowl, it would be to cede that New Zealand's batting was potentially vulnerable. But so what, the Aussies knew that already. The smart decision would have been to acknowledge the pressure and to bowl, to attack from a position of strength. Make the Aussies think about it.

But swaggerman McCullum had to bat and then he had to slash at Mitchell Starc, unable to see that Starc was on fire and needed to be damped down. It was defeatist and it gave McCullum an easy out – "it's the way I play". He failed to recognise the situation and adapt. He took the easy, loser's option. McCullum didn't look like he hated losing nearly enough. He wasn't "filthy" like an Aussie skipper would have been.

Then, at Lord's, McCullum threw away a series win against England because he is too in love with his own attacking image. He kept in slips against Alistair Cook as he glided to 162 despite the fact England's captain was leaving the ball. And that is another myth of the World Cup. All those slips and how many catches did second and third slip actually take in the tournament. One or two?

McCullum also gave his spinner no protection, allowing Joe Root and Ben Stokes to successfully counter-attack. By refusing to recognise the turn of events, McCullum played England back into a winning position at Lord's. There was a moment when the common-sense decision was to accept the draw as the high-odds option. Risk no longer equated to the reward.  It is the second time McCullum's captaincy has blown a series victory against England.

McCullum has received some very good advice and had the sense to take it. He has been shown how to get certain players out and he has gone there. He has made New Zealand an exciting cricket team and has engaged the players.

But at Otago McCullum was not a good captain. In the IPL he was not a good captain. And now, against England, he had much the better XI against a team whose bowling spearhead is in decline, who couldn't catch and who had a No3 and 4 haplessly out of form. Yet New Zealand could only draw the series. And, sadly, that was down to the captain.

Brendon McCullum has helped create a positive team who play thrilling cricket. But "a beautiful mind" he is not.

Composite team: A Cook, T Latham, K Williamson, R Taylor, J Root, B McCullum or B Stokes, BJ Watling, M Craig, T Southee, S Broad, T Boult.

 - Sunday Star Times

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