McCullum's leadership by example style fails

IAN ANDERSON
Last updated 19:44 19/05/2013
Brendon McCullum
STEVE BARDENS/ Getty
BRASH: Brendon McCullum is not one to take things lying down.

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OPINION: Brendon McCullum and the Black Caps went into day four of the first test last night with the outcome in the balance.

What wasn’t disputable was McCullum’s errant behaviour earlier the previous day. When initial caution was in demand, the always brash McCullum perished in the second over driving at a ball begging to be left. That wasn’t his biggest crime though, as he staggeringly asked for the obvious decision to be reviewed, before getting the obvious answer.

The captain is responsible for setting the tone for his side. What McCullum’s move did was tell his batting line-up – “I don’t rate the rest of you”.

To ask for a referral told the batsmen to follow – and batting partner Kane Williamson – that their wickets were worth little.

Yet Williamson, the innings’ topscorer and with a test average of 33.24 – not far behind McCullum’s 36.01 – was capable of battling England’s potent bowling arsenal, with BJ Watling (30.66) next in also deserving the confidence of his skipper.

Any wonder the tail failed to have any impact with the bat? Tim Southee’s batting in tests is the equivalent of a red rag to bullish Black Caps fans.

He’s like a glorious internet troll, inspiring keyboard vitriol by swinging at most deliveries with no regard to the perilous match situation.

Yet how is he meant to draw anything but negative thoughts from his skipper’s previous move?

Chris Martin’s ineptitude with the bat was embraced with some perverse joy by Kiwi cricket fans, yet Southee, who averages 16.73 runs better, cops plenty.

The widespread criticism of Southee’s batting centres around the school of thought that he is a far better batsman than his brazen approach shows.

Yet what empirical evidence do we have to back that up? His 77 on debut against England in 2008 came off 40 balls.

His only other test half-century was 56 off 82 balls against Pakistan in 2011. His next best? Fourty-four off 33 deliveries against England at Eden Park in March, and 44 off 39 balls versus Zimbabwe in Napier in 2012. Not a lot of crease occupation there.

Radio commentator Brian Waddle, in bemoaning Southee’s approach, pointed out Southee has a first-class century. What Waddle, who watches as much domestic first-class cricket as a lost seagull, failed to point out was Southee’s Plunket Shield ton came in December last year, when he smashed 156 off just 130 balls, plundering six sixes and 18 fours.

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McCullum’s actions stole the spotlight from another atrocious captain’s decision on Friday night.

When Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna was sin-binned with just over 10 minutes left against the Hurricanes on Friday night, the hosts at the Cake Tin trailed 17-9.

They needed two scores minimum to beat the visitors and keep their faint Super Rugby playoff hopes alive.

They had a penalty five metres from the Chiefs goal-line, against 14 men, in a match that had produced just one try in slippery conditions.

Yet Victor Vito – replacing Conrad Smith as skipper – opted to kick a penalty, believing his side was then capable of creating a better try-scoring opportunity in the remaining time available.

It was a decision stupefying beyond belief from a smart man, one who has a law degree and an arts degree. Appropriately, the Hurricanes only once in the next 10 minutes gained decent field position from which to launch an attack – chiefly through Robbie Robinson misjudging a kick – but the hosts quickly squandered that chance through an error.

What would have made Vito’s decision even more clearcut than it was would be the use of quantitative analysis – an area where Kiwi sports teams are light years behind US organisations.

With a vast collection of data on similar situations – assessing field position, possession, try-scoring opportunities – Vito’s decision could have been made correctly and instantly, either by him or the coaching staff.

A host of US sports franchise in NFL, NBA and MLB now have whip-smart staff providing them cutting-edge insight to help make better plays.

That’s not to say the coaches always make the right move despite this assistance – it’s hard to change the mindset of the 65-year-old guy making the final call when he hasn’t  had his authority challenged since the Carter administration.

Those that are smart enough to work such matter out though benefit hugely.

It has to be a better option than blaming the ref.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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