New Zealand v England, World Cup 2015, Group A, Wellington February 20, 2015

The electrifying Brendon McCullum

The New Zealand captain ensured the Wellington crowd were entertained by swing bowling and fielding of a rare standard, and then he sated their desire for aggressive shots too
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Trott: The situation suited McCullum

An international cricket ground is a large space. Thousands of cars could be parked on one. Put 11 sprightly men on it, marshalled by an attacking captain with a battery of accurate bowlers to call upon though, the gaps on it can shrink drastically. On Friday against New Zealand, despite the sunshine and crisp air in Wellington, England's batsmen would have found the Regional Stadium as claustrophobic as a windowless solitary confinement cell.

It shrunk when Brendon McCullum batted as well - to the size of a backyard - as he blazed a trail of sixes and fours to complete the demolition of England inside 46 overs. His 77 off 25 balls in the chase - McCullum broke his own record for the fastest World Cup fifty - was the perfect celebration of the way New Zealand had performed to dismiss England for 123, because it ensured the strong and appreciative crowd had seen everything. They had been entertained by swing bowling and fielding of a rare standard, and now they had their fill of aggressive shots. They wouldn't have complained that all of it was from New Zealand.

McCullum was buzzing with adrenaline when he went in to bat, because he had been both fulcrum and spearhead of a bowling and fielding display that was an outlier to the performances of more human teams. On the eve of this match, he had spoken of a blueprint his team followed and it probably has one word on every page - attack, in bold and large print. His team could borrow the country's tourism department's catchphrase to trademark the way they played - 100% Pure New Zealand.

McCullum was everywhere: sprinting to his right from mid-off and diving to cut off shots before they entered the unmanned expanses beyond the 30-yard circle, flying from short cover and midwicket with arm flung out behind him to pull down balls that had already passed his body, racing from mid-off towards long-on to chase down a well-timed drive just inside the boundary, and even running full-tilt after shots he had no hope stopping.

His team-mates followed his example perfectly. Adam Milne ran hard towards third man and dived to save a four, and then pulled off running and full-length diving catch at long-on to dismiss Eoin Morgan - feats that few fast bowlers would have been capable of. Daniel Vettori hurried to get behind a stinging throw from his captain to prevent overthrows. Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill and Corey Anderson threw themselves around at gully and slips. And at one point there were four fielders rushing to back up a throw to Luke Ronchi, and not because his wicketkeeping is dodgy.

New Zealand's astuteness in the field combined with remarkable ground speed made for an incredible spectacle, and each one was met with a roar from the full house.

Tim Southee on New Zealand's fielding - 'It is an attitude thing that's led by Brendon himself, the way he throws himself around in the field' © Getty Images

And then there was the captaincy. Whenever a fast bowler was operating McCullum employed his catchers. Sometimes there were four slips in the cordon, sometimes there were two. But there was always at least one. A gully was a near-permanent fixture and men prowled at short cover and midwicket. The swinging ball and unrelenting accuracy from New Zealand's bowlers kept McCullum's field in play throughout, and when England met their bitter end, more people were catching than not.

That end was hastened when McCullum decided to try and wipe England out as soon as Morgan was dismissed in the 25th over, with his team on 104 for 4. He brought back Tim Southee, and it was a decision that culminated in New Zealand's premier bowler breaking the national record for the best ODI figures.

"Got the [Morgan] wicket, and Brendon thought it was a chance to attack and put the foot down," Southee said, after finishing with 7 for 33. "It's one of those moves - he makes the play, it comes off, and it couldn't have been a better move."

Southee added that New Zealand's approach began with their captain. "We've seen over the last … however long Brendon has been in charge, he's an aggressive captain and the way he plays his cricket is aggressive," he said. "As bowlers that gives you the confidence to go out knowing the captain is right in behind you with setting these attacking fields.

"Our fielding, it's an attitude. We've prided ourselves on being one of the best fielding sides in the world for a number of years now. It is an attitude thing that's led by Brendon himself, the way he throws himself around in the field. And if he's doing that then it sets the standard for the rest of the team to follow."

At no stage of their innings did England have an inch of breathing room and Morgan, looking rather shell-shocked, gave New Zealand their due. "Probably the best bowling display we've come across since we've been down this side of the world, which says a lot considering we played against Australia," he said. "But today we couldn't cope with it."

If New Zealand are able to rev themselves up to such a gear against Australia a week from now in Auckland, the tournament favourites will have challenges to cope with it too.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • viraj on February 21, 2015, 7:08 GMT

    @Joie69 Yes mate,I felt that was to be assumed as two host nations will be playing against each other...Like India had gone to Bangladesh for 2011 WC opening game

  • Nick on February 21, 2015, 4:54 GMT

    Actually NZ did play Australia in the 2013 champions trophy. They were 51/2 having restricted Au to 243. No result due to rain.

  • Nick on February 21, 2015, 4:41 GMT

    @nihal bhat. NZ beat South Africa by over a hundred runs last match and beat India 4-0 in NZ last year. Australia refuses to play us and hasn't for 4 years which is ridiculous. The big 3 are ruining cricket by monotonously playing each other. England is awful. India are ok and could take someone big down in the QF. SA will choke again at the semi stage. NZ vs Au final. NZ wins.

  • Android on February 21, 2015, 3:34 GMT

    i want to see final between NZ n Aus and NZ winning the final. two of the best teams in the WC reaching final would be an apt finale.

  • 10thdrop on February 21, 2015, 2:56 GMT

    Nihal, with respect, I think youre kidding yourself by including India in the same realm as Aus, SA and NZ. They are a shadow of their former selves with a toothless bowling attack. They are no threat presently.

  • Dummy4 on February 21, 2015, 1:51 GMT

    It was a stunning Victory .. as for McCulum, he is always on fire :)

  • Steve on February 21, 2015, 1:32 GMT

    Great win guys, bring on Australia next week. I think it is hard to gauge where Australia are at because last night's game confirmed England is weak at the moment.

    I don't understand all this talk about peaking too early. You go out to win every game and if you execute your plans better than the opposition and have the skills, you win. What are NZ meant to do, lose a couple of games on purpose to stop this peaking? I think one day cricket is such a fickle game in terms of weather and the ability of one great performance by the opposition to swing a game, this is going to happen at some stage. In the meantime NZ, keep winning well.

  • Dummy4 on February 21, 2015, 1:05 GMT

    dont rate any wins until kiwis play either australia, south africa or india. the big 3. standard of cricket drops alarmingly once you go outside these teams....

  • rob on February 20, 2015, 23:32 GMT

    McCullum seems to have been around forever and like a really good concrete mix just gets stronger with age. The last 2 years or so seem to have cured him right into the very apex of his powers. .. I think he's probably NZ's greatest ever cricketer and let's face it, they've had some rippers over the years. I wouldn't begrudge him a WC trophy. It would be a fitting reward for a stupendous player.

  • Joy on February 20, 2015, 23:26 GMT

    @viraj09 Aus won't play all their matches at home as they play in Auckland next week. However, otherwise you're correct. Aussie will play all their remaining matches at home and NZ will play all theirs in NZ except the final if they make it. The exception to this is if NZ meet Australia in the semis (not hugely likely). my understanding is that if this were to happen whoever qualifies highest of the two would get the home semi.

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