Dazzling and versatile both side of the sticks
World Cup matches…..25
Proficient with the big gloves, brilliant fielder without them, belligerent with the bat, able to open the batting or play in the middle-order, Brendon McCullum is dazzling as well as versatile. His pyrotechnics in the very first match of the Twenty20 Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008 will forever remain etched in memory. He has built up a fine record: Over 5300 runs in Tests at an average of 37 plus and a strike-rate above 60, with nearly 200 dismissals; more than 5000 runs in One-dayers at an average exceeding 30 and a strike-rate of almost 90, having surpassed the 260 dismissals mark. These are figures of a top-flight wicketkeeper-batsman, one of the finest cricketers to emerge from New Zealand.
Having sat out of the first match in the 2003 World Cup, McCullum only came in at no. 8 as the West Indies had them in strife at 147 for six after 32.2 overs. The 21-year-old helped Chris Harris add 41, and then allied with the belligerent Andre Adams in a crucial undefeated 53-run stand which took his side’s total to a respectable 241 for seven. McCullum’s unbeaten 36 came off 53 deliveries, and he struck one boundary. West Indies were bowled out for 221, leaving McCullum with pleasant memories of his World Cup debut.
A superb unconquered century by skipper Stephen Fleming in a rain-interrupted innings carried the Kiwis to a nine-wicket win over the Proteas. McCullum snapped up his first two catches in the premier event, sending back the openers Graeme Smith and centurion Herschelle Gibbs off the pacemen Shane Bond and Jacob Oram. The match against Kenya was forfeited as New Zealand declined to travel to Nairobi due to security concerns.
New Zealand beat Bangladesh easily by seven wickets. McCullum now took three catches, continuing his association with the same bowlers. Canada did not stretch them much and McCullum again allied with the two seamers to bag a catch each for them.
In the super-six game against Zimbabwe, there was a catch, this time off Chris Cairns. Bond was on fire in the face-off with Trans-Tasman rivals Australia at Port Elizabeth, and McCullum was in the frame with two catches off the speedster. Brett Lee’s return burst sent New Zealand packing, McCullum being trapped leg-before for 1. India were too good and McCullum, promoted to no. 5, was bowled for 4.
The young wicketkeeper had done a competent job, picking up 9 catches. He played one significant innings, which was an important ingredient in the eventual victory. A budding career was waiting to flower.
New Zealand upstaged the English by six wickets in their opening encounter in 2007. McCullum snapped up Edmund Joyce (0) and Ian Bell (5) off James Franklin and Oram respectively. Later he caught the dogged Paul Collingwood and Jamie Dalrymple off Scott Styris. Kenya were trounced but McCullum was dismissed for just 6 and did not take a catch.
A John Davison-inspired Canada put up a spirited fight. McCullum joined Oram at 278 for five at the end of the 43rd over. After Oram had hit Davison for a six over long-off, McCullum swept left-arm spinner Kevin Sandher on top of the Beusejour Stadium stand, and skied the last ball of the over that just eluded Anderson Cummins at long-on and also carried for six. In the next over he tickled Cummins, the former West Indies paceman, to the fine-leg boundary. Sunil Dhaniram, another left-arm tweaker sent down a full-toss, which McCullum launched over square-leg for his 3rd six. Oram lofted Cummins for a straight six. In the final over McCullum rocketed Dhaniram for 2 more on-side sixes to raise the fastest fifty of the World Cup off a mere 20 deliveries, quicker than two Mark Boucher efforts in the same tournament. Oram teed off another six over extra-cover off the penultimate delivery. The unfinished partnership was worth 85 runs in 7 overs. McCullum was unbeaten with 52 off 21 balls, comprising those 5 sixes and sole boundary. New Zealand piled up 363. Canada did well to total 249, McCullum pouching a catch off Daniel Vettori.
It was at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua where the West Indies received a drubbing from the Kiwis in their super-eight clash. Having put up a half-century stand with Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan drove at Oram only to manage a thick inside-edge which flew down the leg-side, McCullum bringing off a spectacular catch. Soon Oram got one to leap and take Marlon Samuels’ glove, for McCullum to hold on. Gayle played on to Oram in his next over. Brian Lara and Dwayne Bravo staged a 47-run rescue act but Bond had the latter edging into the gloves of McCullum. Then it was the big wicket. With McCullum standing up to the stumps, Lara tried to swing Styris on the on-side, inside-edged it and McCullum brought off a fine catch. McCullum had a hand in four of the previous five dismissals, and the West Indies slipped to 177 all out. The Kiwis coasted to a seven-wicket win.
The Bangladesh openers were off to a steady start but with Tamim Iqbal stepping out to paceman Oram in the quest to raise the scoring-rate, McCullum decided to come up to the stumps. The fifty was raised in the 16th over, and in the next Tamim stretched to pull off an inventive shot off Oram on the leg-side, missed and McCullum whipped off the bails in a trice. His move had paid off; the left-hander departed. In Oram’s next over, the other opener Javed Omar tried to cut, only to edge it to McCullum. The Bangladesh innings never really took off, and New Zealand raced to a nine-wicket triumph.
McCullum got another opportunity to bat against the other surprise qualifiers Ireland. Coming in at 172 for five, he soon saw his side slip to 189 for seven in 42.3 overs. Joined by the left-handed Franklin, the pair upped the ante, initially in well-run ones and twos, to the extent that there were no boundaries in 11 overs upto the end of the 47th. Then there was a flurry in the last three. Franklin struck the captain Trent Johnston for two successive fours, and McCullum lofted his pull to the fence. Franklin struck Kevin O’Brien for a four and a six in the penultimate over. McCullum replicated it off Johnston He drove through the covers and then bludgeoned a straight six to crack a glass screen in the pavilion. He holed out off the fourth for 47, scored off 37 deliveries. New Zealand totalled 283 for eight. Then in the second over of the Irish innings, Bond induced an edge from Jeremy Bray’s blade, and McCullum snapped it up. Later Eoin Morgan snicked one from Oram into the gloves of McCullum. Ireland packed up for 134.
By now most of McCullum’s work was over. The formidable Sri Lankans registered a comfortable win. Magical Muralitharan trapped McCullum leg-before for 1. Though McCullum snapped up Sanath Jayasuriya off Oram, it was not before a 100-run second-wicket stand with another classy left-hander Kumar Sangakkara. The Kiwis did well to beat the Proteas. McCullum scored 4 not out in the five-wicket victory. The Aussies were too good, McCullum falling for 7. New Zealand, though, made it to the semi-finals, but again Sri Lanka packed too many guns. This time Murali had McCullum caught for a duck.
McCullum played a couple of belligerent knocks, finishing with a strike-rate of 134.48, and was always superb behind the sticks with 14 victims to his credit. New Zealand have always performed creditably in the World Cup without being brilliant. McCullum was invariably at hand to answer the call of duty.
In another campaign going right up to the semi-finals in 2011, McCullum was designated to open the innings. As a Kenyan team in decline crashed to 69 all out in 23.5 overs, McCullum snapped up their captain Jimmy Kamande off Oram. He brought up a ten-wicket win alongwith Martin Guptill in a mere 8 overs. McCullum was unbeaten with 26 off 17 deliveries with 4 fours.
Seemingly in a hurry, McCullum swung his willow against some fast, short-pitched bowling, particularly from Shaun Tait, clattering 3 boundaries. Then he slashed at the speedster, only to be caught at third-man. His 16 had come off 12 balls, and the Aussies never really gave much of a chance, cantering to a seven-wicket victory in 34 overs.
McCullum and Guptill coasted to another ten-wicket win, this time against Zimbabwe. Guptill began with 2 fours and a six in the first over, then another six in the fifth over. McCullum struck his first six in the 15th over. The hundred came up in 22.4 overs, and McCullum reached his fifty with a straight four off his 74th delivery. He pull-drove his second six in the 32nd over, and victory came two overs later. McCullum scored 76 off 95 deliveries with 6 fours and 2 sixes; Guptill scored 86 off 108 deliveries with 7 fours and 2 sixes.
Shoaib Akhtar’s third delivery of the match was a no-ball. McCullum bludgeoned the re-bowled free-hit over mid-wicket for a six. The next ball darted in sharply and took his off-stump. Ross Taylor waded into the Pakistani attack, the Kiwis totalling 302 for seven, and then bowling themselves to a 110-run win.
The valiant triers from Canada bore the brunt of McCullum’s punishing blade once again. The ball flew all over the Wankhede Stadium. The opening stand realized 53 runs in 9.5 overs, of which Guptill’s contribution was 17. Jesse Ryder joined in another belligerent partnership. McCullum’s fifty came off 38 balls, by which time he had struck 9 fours and a six. When Ryder fell to John Davison, the pair had added 96 runs in just under 20 overs. McCullum raised his hundred off 107 deliveries. He was soon gone for 101, having played 2 more balls, and blasted 12 fours and 2 sixes in all. Later Taylor’s pyrotechnics saw him rocketing 4 sixes and a four in an over off Harvir Baidwan. There was a jamboree with a flood of fours and sixes, most notably 4 boundaries off another Baidwan over, and Franklin’s 3 sixes and 2 fours in the last over bowled by Rizwan Cheema. The Canadian bowlers were getting into the record books for the wrong reasons. New Zealand piled up 358 for six. After early setbacks, Canada did well to total 261 for nine. So far McCullum was pouching the odd catch in a match. Here he held a succession of them. Hiral Patel was going after the bowlers until he edged a pull off Oram into the gloves of McCullum. Then followed a heart-warming 125-run stand between skipper Ashish Bagai and Jimmy Hansra. A cramping Bagai nicked Nathan McCullum, and brother Brendon completed the dismissal. Not long after, Cheema dabbed Oram on the off-side and McCullum brought off a splendid diving catch. He picked up the man-of-the-match prize too.
The Kiwis were upstaged in a Sangakkara-Jayawardene-Muralitharan show. The Lankans put up 265 for nine, with McCullum holding catches off Styris and Oram. McCullum and Guptill seemed on course, but McCullum fell for 14 off 16 deliveries, having struck 2 fours. His partner followed soon and New Zealand folded up for 153.
Though New Zealand stunned South Africa in the quarter-final, both openers fell cheaply. As Oram dazzled in the field, McCullum held a late catch off him, and the Kiwis were through by 49 runs. Facing Sri Lanka again in the semi-final, McCullum departed for 13, and his side was not good enough to break through this stage yet again. Sangakkara was man-of-the-match once more, this time as much for his wicketkeeping as for his batting.
On the face of it, McCullum had done a fine job with the bat, scoring 256 runs in 8 matches at an average of 42.66 and a strike-rate of 92.41. But his big scores came against the weaker sides. What must not be forgotten, however, is that he was fulfilling a crucial dual role, which added depth to the batting and gave the side the option of including an extra bowler. As always he was efficient, and often brilliant, behind the stumps with his 9 dismissals.
Overall, he is now third among wicketkeepers in the World Cup with 32 dismissals. His batting is always an asset, at the top or in the middle, with 414 runs at a strike-rate of above 94 and average of nearly 32. His name is one of the first picked when selecting the New Zealand team, and what is most heartening for his country is that he still has some good years ahead of him. Brendon McCullum is poised to go down in their annals as one of the brightest stars alongside the likes of Bert Sutcliffe, Glenn Turner, Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe and Daniel Vettori.
(From the Hall of Fame section of Indra Vikram Singh’s new book ‘Indian Spring’. The author can be contacted on email email@example.com).
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