New skipper still needs to win over his critics

JONATHAN MILLMOW
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2011

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OPINION: New Zealand has been blessed with some outstanding cricket captains.

Players who kept their teams in the contest with brains rather than boundaries and the names of Geoff Howarth and Stephen Fleming spring instantly to mind.

Howarth had Richard Hadlee but also a great tactical mind and Fleming was remarkable at getting the most out of limited resources, and tactically and strategically had his rivals on the run.

The pair go down as captains first, players second, even if they were still close to our best of their day when it came to batsmanship. Both men could light up an afternoon with crisp strokeplay, Fleming especially.

Plenty of other captains have won our hearts in various ways. Martin Crowe had the skill and the smarts but not the body to survive long enough to leave an indelible leadership impression.

John Wright rolled up his sleeves and had a famous victory over Australia and Daniel Vettori offered hope, tried his heart out but ultimately presided over a selfish mob for a brief, turbulent and ultimately underwhelming period.

The naming of a new national rugby or cricket captain is a significant day in our sporting landscape and yesterday Ross Taylor was awarded that honour.

There was an argument for the decision to go to Brendon McCullum, who comes across as having the sharper cricket brain and more charisma, but the safer course has been chosen with the appointment of Taylor.

We want our captains to be commanding, inspirational and flawless types.

We want them to speak eloquently, mix comfortably with the meek and the mighty, and ultimately to be successful.

For the moment, Taylor might not be able to put his hand up for many of those titles but everyone will tell you he has fine human qualities and the ability to lead from the front with the bat.

He remains a player first and a captain second and needs to win over his critics, who see too many lean patches, loose shots and lapses in concentration.

The World Cup was a step in the right direction for Taylor, a rough start followed by a match-winning hand against Pakistan and perhaps, just as importantly, a couple of sensible knocks against South Africa and Sri Lanka.

He deserves space to grow into a role that will challenge him like nothing else, but equally this shouldn't be an armchair ride because, if nothing else, the honour and responsibility come with a $50,000 captain's bonus.

McCullum deserves some sympathy because no-one likes to be the runner-up in a public two-horse race.

McCullum has a bit of Ricky Ponting about him in terms of attitude and traits but whereas Cricket Australia used sandpaper to smooth over Ponting's rough edges, New Zealand Cricket chose not to bother.

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For years he has seemed the logical successor to Vettori but performances tailed off, injuries flared at unexpected times and, tellingly, he lost a scoreboard points battle with Taylor at the World Cup.

Playing second fiddle to someone you believe you have superior skills to is a bitter pill to swallow so McCullum will be worth watching just as closely as his captain.

- The Dominion Post

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