OPINION: B rendon McCullum is an unacknowledged victim of New Zealand Cricket's bungling in the Ross Taylor fiasco.
McCullum, 31, is now the New Zealand captain in tests, one- dayers and Twenty20 matches.
Such a promotion should have been one of the proudest moments of his life.
After all, he comes from a fine cricket family, including father Stu, an Otago rep, and brother Nathan, a New Zealand rep.
McCullum first played for New Zealand in 2002 and has built a fabulous record.
He has played 330 internationals and scored 10,300 runs, plus there's the matter of nearly 450 wicketkeeping dismissals.
It's no great surprise that McCullum, with his pedigree, would eventually become the New Zealand captain.
But it's been no triumph for him.
Unfairly, he ended up on the defence at his first press conference as captain. Had he undermined Taylor? Had he put himself ahead of the team?
McCullum must now lead a struggling New Zealand team to South Africa to tackle the world champions, while missing the Black Caps' best batsman.
He has New Zealand Cricket to thank for the mess he's inherited - its board and especially its chairman, its chief executive and the man it appointed, Black Caps coach Mike Hesson.
New Zealand cricket has known grim times.
In our first test against Australia, in Wellington in 1946, we were dismissed for 42 and 54. We didn't get another official test against the Aussies for 27 years.
In 1955, England bowled out New Zealand for 26 in Auckland, still the world record test low.
Then there was the 1995 tour of South Africa, with the dope- smoking, the rift in the team and other allegations of serious crime. The coach, captain and manager lost their jobs soon after.
But have things ever been worse than now?
I tried last week to write some kind words about the New Zealand team, after their gutsy test win against Sri Lanka in Colombo. Before the column had even appeared, the sport here was ripping itself apart.
The treatment of Taylor has been shameful.
In his 18 months as New Zealand captain, Taylor batted outstandingly. Hence his test average in that time of 50. His captaincy also improved. Witness the test win over Sri Lanka.
He's become a sacrificial lamb for poor results by under- performing players.
Some senior players and the players' association do not emerge from this debacle with credit. Fledgling coach Hesson proved to be a novice in man management.
Various recent national captains and coaches have been pulling the strings from the sidelines, manipulating events for their own reasons.
Hesson's actions would have been laughable if they had not had such serious consequences.
How idiotic to front Taylor before the tests in Sri Lanka and tell him he would be recommending a change of captain.
Much has been made of Hesson's supposed close friendship with McCullum. I remain unconvinced. Hesson is a by-the-book type; McCullum loves to be spontaneous. How they'll gel will be intriguing.
Hesson reports to New Zealand Cricket supremo John Buchanan, who backed Taylor. Buchanan seems powerless, so he should be flicked on, saving his massive pay packet in the process.
There was some dreadful mud- slinging during the lead-up to Taylor's sacking.
Apparently Taylor had "lost" the dressing room, and his language to his players had been "abusive".
In fact, Taylor is well-spoken and, on the whole, rather mild- mannered, well respected by his team-mates.
Who cared? Fling the mud. Some might stick.
New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White, though he knew this battle loomed, headed overseas at the critical time, so things festered. When he got back, he led the efforts to spin the axing, suggesting Taylor had "resigned" the test captaincy.
Taylor was having none of it. He calmly explained what had happened, and let it be known he had not had Hesson's support. He looked shattered.
What of the New Zealand Cricket board, which rubber- stamped all this? The board seems semi-dysfunctional, though it has not lost its ability to pat itself on the back.
Perhaps chairman Chris Moller might stop worrying about other sports (he was the man who reviewed New Zealand swimming so scathingly) and put the torch on his own sport.
It would be wonderful if New Zealand Cricket had a cricket person as its board chairman. Martin Snedden's name springs to mind.
The saddest part is that our best players, Taylor and McCullum, have been set against each other.
There should be some serious soul-searching among cricket officials and administrators. Many aren't up to it and should get out.
Joseph Romanos is a Wellington sports writer and broadcaster.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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