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‘A captain’s style depends on the team he’s leading’

Brendon McCullum speaks to The Telegraph
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Brendon McCullum

Calcutta: New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, who has just led his country to a stunning 4-0 win over world champions India in the ODIs, recently spoke to The Telegraph.

McCullum, 32, is vastly experienced by New Zealand standards — 82 Tests, 229 ODIs and 64 T20 Internationals.

Excerpts...

Being in the ‘hot seat’ for a while now...

It has been an interesting time and the boys have responded nicely. We’ve started to get results and I’ve been enjoying the job... Hopefully, we’ll quickly develop a style of our own.

The full-time captaincy coming with a fair amount of controversy...

I didn’t expect problems in the dressing room... Ross (Taylor, his predecessor) and I go back a long way. We’ve played together for a number of years and we always knew that sometimes he’d be the captain, sometimes I. The team’s moving in the right direction and we’re focused on that. As a group, we move along well.

Style of captaincy...

A captain’s style depends on the team he’s leading... Conditions also come into play, for certain pitches suit the captaincy style of certain individuals... Some captains are willing to take risks... Some always look to put pressure back on the opposition... That’s what I like to do. Off the field, I try to encourage the boys to enhance their skill. Within a framework, they need to have flair and need to play with freedom.

Additional pressure owing to the captaincy...

There’s always pressure and you always put more pressure on yourself than what others do anyway. My philosophy is to be the best I can be, to try and make a difference... Whether as captain or as a player. Blame and appreciation are part of the game and you have to find a way to deal with them... You can’t give up.

Special feeling...

When you contribute to a winning performance.

Staying calm in the dressing room...

(Laughs) I’m a calm person and you won’t find me making harsh speeches. When somebody drops a catch, you can’t do much about it. So, you have to put that behind you, be enthusiastic about the other aspects, and try to do better.

First big test...

The 2012-13 tour of South Africa, my first as New Zealand’s full-time captain... It was a big challenge as we were raw (as a unit)... It was a learning curve, for we were deficient in some areas and efficient in some of the others... We made some changes, but sudden changes don’t always go in your favour. We lost the Test and T20 series’, but won the ODIs — a memorable first for New Zealand in South Africa.

Having captained the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in 2009, in edition No.2 of the IPL...

It was a very different time back then... That team was a lot different from New Zealand’s national side... It was a different kind of experience. Having said that, one learns from experiences, good and bad.

Role model captain...

Well, you try and pick elements from the captaincy of others and, then, blend them with yours. I was lucky to have played under Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori, who offered some real insights into captaincy. Ross too... I’ve been fortunate to have had good people around me. At the end of the day, you have to come up with your own style.

Thoughts on Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India’s captain across the three formats...

Dhoni has very much his own style and, in the last couple of years, has become creative with his captaincy. He has a tremendous record.

India touring New Zealand after almost five years...

It’s huge for us. In fact, the entire season is huge, providing us with opportunities to move up the ladder... Improve our rankings.

[After thrashing India in the ODIs, New Zealand have moved up to No.7 in the ICC rankings, an improvement of one position. India dropped to No.2.]

New Zealand almost always being the underdogs...

I’m not sure whether that tag fires us up or not, but we’re comfortable with the underdogs label... We’re a small nation of four-million odd people, up against much bigger ones... Actually, it’s up to us not to feel low, it’s up to us not to be under too much pressure... Irrespective of the tag, if we stick to the basics and execute our game plans well, then the results will come our way.

Going forward, the No.1 challenge for New Zealand...

(Passionately) Consistency... We need to put up good performances consistently. Also, we need to be totally familiar with the brand of cricket we want to play... Aggressive and hard... The more familiar we become, the harder the impact we’ll make. We’re on the right track and we have the balance (in the XIs).

If the recent restructuring in New Zealand Cricket (NZC) distracted...

Not at all. We’re focused to perform, on the field, and we control the things we can. Anything happening off the field cannot be made into an excuse.

NZC’s restructuring...

It looks like a very good Board... There seems to be a nice balance, with experienced professionals coming together with former players.

Keeping cricket clean...

There has to be trust between people running the game and those who play... People who get the opportunity to play cricket must realise that only hard work can help achieve things.

If, in the New Zealand dressing room, there’s an emphasis on keeping the game clean...

We go through the same process as the other teams, have anti-corruption briefings. We know what we can and can’t do... Besides, there are experts to educate us... I believe in playing the game in the right spirit.

Being guided by a formula, particularly in the two shorter formats...

You have to shut out the fear of getting out... You have to calculate correctly and stay calm... You have to take risks, particularly in T20. They look great when they come off, not good when they don’t... You have to assess when to up the ante and when to hold back a little. There will be times when you have to be patient and play tactically... You have to wait for the moment which could make the difference.

Lessons learnt in 12 years at the international level...

The game teaches you a lot about yourself, teaches you to handle things as they come along... The highs and the lows... Challenges have to be met... Of course, I’ve learnt that, as an experienced player, I need to take more responsibility. That’s expected of me.

Twelve years on...

I’m pretty lucky to have achieved some of the things I have in this period. I’d probably be proud of them when I retire. I guess I’m fortunate to have been around for so long.

Lastly... If he’d be happy to again wear the KKR colours, in IPL VII...

Absolutely. I had a wonderful time with KKR (two innings), I think it’s a great franchise... Almost like a family to those involved with it. It will be great if I get back to KKR, but it will be perfectly OK with me if I end up with some other franchise.

Note: The auction for IPL VII is scheduled for February 12, 13.