Brendon McCullum is NZ's Captain Courageous
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Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a piece for Stuff Nation titled 'Black Caps, A History Of Failure'.
My central argument was that, when considering the overall history of the team - its long periods when it was in the doldrums versus brief periods of excellence - there had been no winning culture established, which in turn resulted in diminished expectations from the public, from the media, from the players and New Zealand Cricket themselves.
This resulted in a cycle of mediocrity if you will; the legacy of poor performances paving the way for poor performances in the now and in the future. An acceptance, not just by other nations, but critically ourselves as well, of New Zealand as a minnow on the world cricketing stage.
The arguments were familiar and well-worn: we do not have the resources, the player base, the conditions, etc, to ensure lasting and consistent success.
My article was written in the aftermath of recent Black Caps' history - being bowled out for 45 in a test match in South Africa. But in no way was it a knee-jerk reaction berating the current players or calling them an isolated outlier in New Zealand cricket history. Rather, my piece was intended to be thoughtful and reflective about the state of the Blacks Caps in the context of this overall history. It was intended to analyse the advantages that elite teams enjoy, via the pressure of the expectation of on-going success breeding a 'no stone unturned' approach to everything that they do.
It was a piece regarding the fact that excellence is the polar opposite of mediocrity, that the acceptance and tolerance of mediocrity can in no way exist in the same environment where excellence is expected to flourish.
My conclusion was that the Black Caps needed to transcend their history and look within to find a harder edge. When success is not expected, the pressure eases. A team can go one of two ways: it can continue to drift deeper into the realms of mediocrity and abject failure, or it can 'look within' and find the internal will and fortitude to turn everything around.
I am delighted to say that - at this particular glorious and singular moment in time - the force and will for change has come from within, and it has come via leadership. Leadership in the truest sense of the word.
The fact that Brendon McCullum is one of the finest leaders we have in New Zealand in any field of endeavour is now self-evident. Anyone who understands anything about leadership understands that McCullum embodies everything that real and genuine leadership consists of.
Leadership is not about dictating to people, imposing yourself on them, and it is definitely not about dragging them kicking and screaming in a certain direction. Leadership is about having a clear vision, being certain of what the outcomes will be if it is carried out as it needs to be, and - and this is really essential part - it is about taking people with you and showing them the promised land.
It is something utterly unselfish, a process in which the leader's genuine desire to help a group of people to get to extraordinary outcomes enables them to become the best possible version of themselves; someone calm and clear under pressure, someone who has a defined plan on how to proceed forward and is capable of implementing it, someone intelligent and articulate enough to convey their vision, someone with an innate sense of how to bring people together in an inclusive way and get the best out of them.
McCullum is a wonderful example of integrity and purpose in a human being. Quite apart from his extraordinary individual actions on the sports field - the runs he scores and his athleticism in the field - he has another dimension to him that has made him the most vital part of New Zealand's current cricketing renaissance: his is a natural-born leader. The team finding a harder, steely edge has happened in concert with McCullum accepting the challenge of leadership and attaining mastery over it. He has been uncompromising in the pursuit of aggressive, attacking cricket - and this has paid a huge dividend for New Zealand Cricket and any true fans of the sport in this country.
For however long this golden age of McCullum's captaincy lasts, New Zealand Cricket must ensure that its learnings are not forgotten, that the chance to go forward from here is not squandered. It should no longer be possible to say that New Zealand cannot truly compete in world cricket, that we don't have the resources, don't have the player base etc.
What we must do going forward is continue with this brand of uncompromising cricket, new leaders must be found, high standards of excellence must be embedded and set in stone. There must be no back-sliding and regressing from this point.
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