Opinion: McCullum the perfect skipper for NZ
New Zealand have always been talked of in the same cliched ways. They have 'punched above their weight' or been 'dark horses' at big events. Things are different now, and those cliches are sounding ridiculously hollow.
New Zealand are no longer a talented bunch that get more than the sum of their parts. In the past they relied on one or two world class performers, the teams from the 1980s featuring Richard Hadlee being a prime example.
This 2015 team is different. While it is too early to say whether any of these Kiwis will reach the same level of greatness that Sir Richard obtained, there is real quality throughout this side. And all of it stems from Brendon McCullum, the most impressive man in world cricket. McCullum as captain has been an absolute revelation, not least because his ascension to the role was not met with universal acclaim.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson maneuvered the then-captain Ross Taylor out of the role unceremoniously, and it was completely the right thing to do. McCullum has gone from strength to strength in that time, both as a leader and as a batsman. He is far from a tactical genius, but he leads his side with confidence and aggression… so much aggression.
When New Zealand bowled out Scotland for 142 they could have taken their time to knock off the runs. That is not the way a McCullum side behaves. They went hard and got the runs with 25 overs to spare losing seven wickets in the process. Someone who just looked at the scorecard might have thought the game was a close one, but it was anything but.
Against England the margin of victory was even more comprehensive. First they destroyed a lacklustre England batting order thanks to a brilliant seven wicket haul from Tim Southee. Then they set about chasing 124 to win. McCullum had 50 overs to secure New Zealand’s second win of the competition. He could easily have just played it safe and gone for the win.
Once again McCullum was thinking about sending a message to the other sides in this tournament and further improving New Zealand’s net run rate. He scored the fastest ever World Cup half century as New Zealand won the game with almost 40 overs to spare.
It is this approach that makes this side so likable. They look to do what the opposition would like least every time. And it isn't the attention seeking 'look how aggressive I am' moves that Michael Clarke has made his own. It isn't funky fielders directly behind the bowlers arm, it is four slips in an ODI and backing his seamers to pitch it up.
Compare that with England at this tournament so far, where they have been unsure whether to play the percentage cricket that has served them so well so often in the past, or if they should move with the times and look for a more attacking approach. What they have managed to do is neither.
McCullum’s New Zealand have not had the same issue with committing to this balls out approach. They sit at the top of the Group A table with a positive net run rate of nearly four. There is every chance that when the group finishes they will still be there, there only realistic opposition for top spot in this group are their neighbours from the other side of the Tasman Sea.
Australia have been in barnstorming form and they too swept England aside with ease. The issue for Australia is that their game against Bangladesh, a contest that they surely would have won, was rained off and the points were shared.
Australia have long been spoken of as the favourites for this competition, but the way New Zealand have started, they are looking an increasingly good bet. They would have been expected to beat both England and Scotland, although the margin of victories have been striking.
The real test comes on Saturday when Australia make the trip to Auckland to play their closest rivals. New Zealand have all the confidence, home advantage, and the chance to all but guarantee top spot and a kind quarter final draw when they face the Australians.
Anything can happen in knockout cricket, but it would be someone either brave or foolhardy who doesn't give New Zealand a real chance of winning the whole damn thing at the MCG next month.
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