Sunday, 29 March 2015

McCullum’s three balls

Take a ball Brendon. Surely?

It was over the moment the ball hit the stumps. New Zealand have come back before, but their head had been cut off. It was not to be at the MCG, not against Australia this time. McCullum gone: game gone.

Will those three balls play over and over again in Brendon McCullum’s head? He was always going to hit out off the first ball. When you’ve lead from the front all tournament, it looks like a backward step to take a ball. But should he have?

First ball, between bat and pad as McCullum swings, missing off stump. Second ball, between bat and pad as McCullum swings, missing leg stump. Third ball. Zing bails. Detonate.

It takes immense bravery to hit that indiscriminately at the beginning of the innings. Brendon McCullum hit his first ball of the tournament for four; the first ball of the next match he sliced over cover for one attempting to do the same. Against England he actually dabbed his first ball for one, but second ball he cut for six.

Then against Australia he came up against Mitchell Starc for the first time in the tournament. Brendon McCullum was Starc’s first Test wicket. It’s a duel that can’t be dull. Pacey, swinging ball against blunderbuss bat.

Round one went to McCullum. Starc started with a wide as McCullum charged. Then he bowled full and McCullum launched himself at it. Six over extra cover, full swing of the bat ending up over the shoulder.  Starc bowled him nine balls. Two went for four, one went for six, and McCullum harvested 17 runs. Peaking too soon?

Sometimes McCullum did take a ball. Against Afghanistan he was positively sedate, pushing a single off his first ball before launching Dawlat Zadran for two fours Against Bangladesh he had to wait until his third ball for a boundary.

In the quarter final against West Indies he even accorded Jason Holder the honour of defending a ball, taking an age in McCullum terms, until his fourth ball, to hit a boundary.

Could he have waited? Could he have taken a ball? Could everything have been different?

Who knows.

Aside from his batting, McCullum’s spring uncoiled fielding has been a trademark throughout the World Cup. Time after time he’s chased a ball down to the boundary, legs whirring. Instead of sliding to stop it, McCullum dives. Head first, no regard for life and limb. Keep the ball inside the boundary, worry about the advertising hoardings later. (Not long later)

Not many captains have blended leading from the front in so many ways with tactical agility. He opens the innings, biting as much as he can from targets or setting up for a big score for others. He fields like a man possesed, besting men ten years his junior. He is New Zealand’s captain. Mitchell Starc may have got Man of the Tournament, but this was Brendon McCullum’s World Cup in all but one way.

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