World Cup 2015: New Zealand March 10, 2015

Never played under captain like Brendon - Hadlee

Richard Hadlee: "I had some good captains, but Brendon is something a little bit special at the moment." © ICC

New Zealand have been playing it cool over recent weeks. They have known they are heavily fancied for the World Cup, as strongly as the nation has ever been, but while embracing the benefits of a home tournament they have been keen to try and keep a lid on the emotions.

Shortly, that lid could well be ripped off. Not against Bangladesh in Hamilton, but come a week on Saturday in Wellington. In a way, the cat is already out of the bag.

In his post-match press conference following the Afghanistan match in Napier, Daniel Vettori referenced "the biggest match of our careers" when throwing ahead to the quarter-final. And on Tuesday, the cricket team and the All Blacks were linked in the same question to Trent Boult, which led him to say: "I've never been compared to an All Black."

When the two sports are mentioned in the same breath you know something is brewing.

At the head of all this - and one of the men who will need to marshal the New Zealand players through the quarter-final and, the nation hopes, two further matches - is Brendon McCullum. He has certainly not been cowered by the demands of the last few weeks. If anything they have emboldened him to find new levels of aggression both in his captaincy and batting.

His 42 off 19 balls against Afghanistan was not the most significant innings in the tournament, but it meant he was the first batsman to make three consecutive scores over 40 at a strike-rate of 200-plus following his displays against England and Australia. In the field, he has almost created a new brand with his all-out attacking approach: the McCullum way.

He is the most talked about sportsman in New Zealand at the moment and there is no shortage of plaudits coming his way. In these pages recently he was labelled an "honorary Aussie" by Ashley Mallett. The latest praise came from two of New Zealand's finest ever players: Stephen Fleming, an outstanding leader himself, and the country's greatest cricketer, Sir Richard Hadlee.

"It's fair to say, that in my career of 18 years through the 1970s and the 1980s, I didn't play under a captain as aggressive as Brendon," Hadlee said. "I had some good captains, but Brendon is something a little bit special at the moment."

Hadlee, taking the bowlers' view, pinpointed McCullum in the field and the utmost belief he has in his tactics and team-mates.

"When you're aggressive and proactive, it can be high risk, it can backfire. At this stage it hasn't," Hadlee said. "But, what he is saying to his bowlers, and if I had a captain like that what he would be saying to me is, I back you. I'll give you the field that you need to get wickets, and do the job. That would've been nice in my time, although it didn't happen."

Fleming, who led New Zealand 303 times across all formats from 1997 to 2007, argued that McCullum has been central to the evolution of the one-day game which is increasingly rewarding the pursuit of wickets ahead of containment.

"Those rave reviews are right. I think over two years he's helped built a brand of cricket that is aggressive, and in some ways it's creating the new way to play the ODI game," Fleming, who retains strong links with McCullum through Chennai Super Kings, said. "You're now seeing Michael Clarke, also an excellent captain, do the same. And Dhoni as well, he's had the bowlers to do it. It's one thing to have that style, number two create a team that can back it up, and that's what I think Brendon's got. But it's taken a while in the making, but I think you can see the fruits of it."

McCullum has won 55% of his ODIs as captain (26 out of 47), compared to 45% for Fleming, although the sample size is much smaller as the latter led in 218 games. As a further example, Martin Crowe won 48% of his 44 ODIs as captain. If he leads a victorious World Cup campaign, McCullum will be forever revered.

"He's a naturally aggressive guy, a gambler as well, but I think he's better than that," Fleming said. "I think it's just an aggressive outlook where we want to hit every ball for six, and it's obviously contagious. You've got guys who can get up, whereas in the past we've been a little bit conservative. But now we're seeing a team that's ready to bleed runs to get wickets and that seems to be the way that the best teams are playing now."

Greatness is Contagious is one of the sayings plastered on posters promoting the tournament. So too, it seems, is the McCullum way.

Andrew McGlashan is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo