ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News

New Zealand v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2011, Mumbai

Nathan McCullum steps into Vettori's shoes

Nagraj Gollapudi in Mumbai

March 17, 2011

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Nathan McCullum is congratulated on dismissing Umar Akmal, New Zealand v Pakistan, Group A, World Cup, Pallekele, March 8, 2011
Nathan McCullum will have to wear the premier spinner's hat against Sri Lanka © Associated Press
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Teams: New Zealand

Nathan McCullum does not bowl a doosra. He says he is working on an unfinished delivery, for which he does not have a name yet. McCullum, however, is certain about his role in this New Zealand side: to defend at all costs. On Friday he will face his biggest challenge against the Sri Lankan batsmen, who read hands better than master palmists. In the absence of Daniel Vettori for the second consecutive match, McCullum has to be New Zealand's frontline spinner.

McCullum's build-up so far in this World Cup has been patchy. Not once has he delivered a full quota of 10 overs, bring used primarily as a utility bowler rather than a strike option. He has taken only three wickets in five matches at an average of 45, which is better than his career mean of 50. All his wickets have come towards the end of the innings, after the mandatory ball change, and he has failed to ask questions of opposition batsmen. Even spinners from weaker teams - Ray Price of Zimbabwe (seven wickets at 21 each), George Dockerell of Ireland (seven at 27) and Peeter Seelar of Netherlands (seven at 35) - have made stronger impressions than has McCullum.

Yet, McCullum could play Sri Lanka with added confidence. He had a brief chat with Sunil Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan's coach, who dropped in during New Zealand's training session ahead of the Pakistan match at John Wright's request. Though the chat lasted barely a few minutes, McCullum was reinvigorated. He realised his thought process about working towards a wicket was similar to what Fernando had in mind. There was not much time to talk technique, but McCullum is bound to utilise the knowledge against Sri Lankans.

"I guess it depends on what type of spinner you are and how you work in the team. They perform different roles depending on the type of spinner," McCullum said of the role of a spinner in modern-day cricket. "As for my role, it is to work hard and try and go for 40-45 off my ten overs, and if I pick up one or two wickets that will do."

McCullum felt his job was no different to that of a Muralitharan, the difference being Murali is a strike bowler. "In the Sri Lankan side, Muralitharan is looked at as a big wicket-taker, but at the end of the day even he has to go for 40-45 runs while he picks up the wickets." McCullum is not cocky about his strengths. He is modest in fact, and would like to one day pick the brains of Murali and Harbhajan Singh to understand how they do what they do. In the interim he could change his mindset and become a wicket-taker instead of being tamed by batsmen.

In the only World Cup match played at the Wankhede so far, New Zealand's bowlers had to toil to get wickets against Canada, who lost by 97 runs but lasted 50 overs. It was the first time New Zealand had to bowl their complete quota of overs. It was also the only occasion McCullum came close to bowling 10 overs - he finished with 56 for 1 off eight.

On Wednesday, Ross Taylor said the absence of Vettori and Kyle Mills would not hurt them because New Zealand had enough men of character to step up. McCullum can be one of them. The pitch has enough bounce and turn, New Zealand have a good fielding side. He needs to bowl with the positive attitude with which he bats. McCullum is one of the best finishers in the game. He has as strike-rate of 120 while batting in the final 10 overs; 52% of his runs are in boundaries. He needs to be that aggressive while bowling.

"I don't think my role changes at all. It just means I got to little bit more consistent and more aware of performing my role to the full extent," he said. "When you lose a big player like Daniel Vettori and Kyle Milles every one needs to stand up and perform their role to the full extent."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Dummy4 on (March 18, 2011, 10:17 GMT)

Australia, Sri Lanka and South Africa have good fielders in their sides a better fielding side would have an edge. At least the final match should not depend on the toss!

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 18, 2011, 0:31 GMT)

NZ you can take the match now itself because it's better off for SL to lose this one and have home final. The only wish for SL is to have South Africa on the top of the table in group B so that we can paly SA not India. I am pretty sure the SL team and the management would know what is required. Good luck Kiwi's.

Posted by James on (March 17, 2011, 23:26 GMT)

McCullum is a good bowler, but not normally a *threatening* bowler, which is what is needed here. He bowls well without often looking likely to take a wicket. If he can add the determination which characterises his batting (and also characterised his football career as a top striker), he'll make the breakthrough to that next stage. Being virtually forced into the lead spinner'sposition here might give him the spark of confidence necessary for that.

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