By Harbour Heather
Brendon McCullum. Has any other player’s performances polarised opinion like our captain’s? He lives by his sword, and dies by ours.
You will get no argument from me that McCullum is one of our greatest batsmen across all forms of the game, especially when you take into account various ‘metrics’ (am I doing it right, FFA?): runs scored, strike rate, breath taking boundaries, brash confidence, utter ‘how the hell did he hit that there?’-ness. Yet he infuriates passionate cricket followers because we know just how good he is. We see it in the rocket cut shots, brave pulls and blazing drives. We measure McCullum by a different yard stick to the rest of the team because we know what he’s capable of.
There is a time and a place for the exhilarating McCullum. In coloured clothing in particular I have no concerns, perhaps other than the first over of a World Cup final. The first day of a test match, however, is different. Bat first, bat big, bat once is what my coach used to say. That innings yesterday was no doubt entertaining for those at the ground and watching at home. But if we could’ve been 380/5 instead, with our captain at the crease heading into Day 2, I’d have been thrilled. Not to say I don’t think we’re in a healthy position, but that’s the thing about McCullum – he leaves you wanting more. This piece probably would’ve been more relevant in Australia last month, rather than at home against a rebuilding Sri Lankan side. But the rhetoric is the same: yes, we enjoyed your 70-odd but we’d have enjoyed some dot balls and singles and 170 even more. No batsman has the right to score off every delivery and it’s okay to accept that bowlers, especially wearing white, occasionally do their job well too.
“It’s just the way he plays” (dismissive tone) isn’t good enough for me because I want more. I want more because I know he can actually produce more. The man has a triple century so it’s not as if application is foreign to him. But surely I wasn’t the only one watching that defiant defence by South Africa last week wondering how our team would fare in the same position. You know the Ship Would Be Steady at one end, and you’d put your house on him being there at the finish because that’s the bar Williamson has set himself. And he reaches, if not exceeds it, time and again.
Which brings us back to McCullum. This isn’t a Williamson v McCullum comparison with regard to their styles; that’s like comparing Pride and Prejudice to Die Hard. It’s about a professional setting an expectation of themselves personally and for the fans. We know where the bar is for McCullum. It’s at the double century and the 302 he scored last summer. He can dig in and bat big.
And, all this comes from a place of love. Do not think that because I, and many others, grit my teeth at a fast and fancy forty that I dislike McCullum. You’re allowed to be a fan and want more. I want the Breakers to improve their free throw percentage. I want Konrad Hurrell to stop being a turnstyle. I want this because I support those teams and these things will contribute to winning more games. I like what McCullum does so much that I want to see more of it. I want all of our batsmen, including those at 6-11, to score as many runs as possible (perhaps a Tim Southee rant should be next….).
As his time in a Black Cap draws to a close, he will rightfully be placed among our greatest. I’ll long remember how teary I was when he passed 300, but equally, I’ll long remember how deflated I felt sitting in the MCG in March, and the Aussie guy next to me saying “That kinda sucks, I wanted to see him bat.”
Me too, mate. Me too.
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