ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Sri Lanka v New Zealand, World Cup 2011, 1st semi-final, Colombo

Nathan McCullum wants to topple another giant

New Zealand are not a team of superstars, they're a team of working-class heroes, like Nathan McCullum, who have built a reputation of being scrappers and in the scrap of their lives sent South Africa out of the tournament

Firdose Moonda in Colombo

March 27, 2011

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Nathan McCullum celebrates the wicket of Dale Steyn, New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd quarter-final, Mirpur, World Cup 2011, March 25, 2011
Nathan McCullum played an integral part in South Africa's collapse © AFP
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Two starry-eyed teenage girls sauntered up to Nathan McCullum to ask him for his autograph. They handed him a pen and some paper and just as he was about to make his mark, they pulled it away. One of them had realised that they didn't want his signature anymore, because the man whose scrawl they did want, younger brother Brendon, was seated a little further away. "Sorry," they said sheepishly to Nathan, who grinned knowingly. "It's ok," he replied.

It's no secret that Brendon is the rock star, not just of his family, but of the team. He's the one who all the girls want to see and all the boys want to be. Almost everyone else is just another New Zealand cricketer. But it's this bunch of AN Others who have made it as the only non-subcontinental team in the World Cup semi-finals. They are not a team of superstars, they're a team of working-class heroes, who've built a reputation of being scrappers and in the scrap of their lives sent South Africa out of the tournament.

McCullum senior was very much a part of that victory, getting the wicket of Hashim Amla thanks to a bit of luck and then playing an integral part in South Africa's collapse, by bowling JP Duminy. He showed just how well he could play his role as a spinner with Daniel Vettori at the other end, someone he has been without in the last two matches, against Canada and Sri Lanka.

It's the presence of these senior players that Nathan thinks has made the difference at the business end of the World Cup. "We have to admire the way that the leaders in the team have been standing up in this competition," he said in Colombo. "Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori and Jacob Oram - they are the four biggest guys in this team and they've been leading from the front so it makes it a lot easier for guys like myself and Tim Southee and everyone else to come in and try and keep up to their standards."

Oram led the charge against South Africa, with a performance as big as he is himself, snatching the catch of Jacques Kallis that turned the game on its head and taking four wickets. As one of the elder statesmen of the side, Oram's inspired showing has fuelled New Zealand's belief, that anything is possible, especially in the knockout stage of the competition. "The guys showed a bit of Kiwi fight and really believed we could win from any position," Nathan said. "The difference between that and other games is that no matter what the situation we thought we could win and as soon as we took one or two quick wickets it was more apparent that there was an opportunity and we sort of drilled it home."

The win represented more than just a ticket to the semi-finals for New Zealand. They have been through a tough period. Apart from three wins against Pakistan, one in this World Cup, New Zealand had not beaten a top level side in 12 months, apart from beating India in August 2010.

Their preparations for the World Cup, while well thought out, with them spending large chunks of the last nine months in the subcontinent and only playing against sub-continent sides in that time, had been demoralising. They didn't make it to the final of a tri-series in Sri Lanka, which included India, lost 4-0 to Bangladesh, 5-0 to India and 3-2 to Pakistan at home. "It was tough at times touring and not winning but I think we have learnt along the way," Nathan said. "We've made a lot of inroads in our performance and if we can just keep trying to improve and put our plans in place then hopefully we can go forward in this tournament."

To go further they will have to topple giants again - giants that have not looked like being toppled. Sri Lanka are in menacing form, coming through the quarter-final with a 10-wicket triumph over England and are, without doubt, the favourites. Nathan has identified one area where New Zealand can look to make a mark. "The big thing for us is taking wickets at the top. Their middle order is a little fragile at the moment, they haven't had a lot of batting. It's been almost two weeks since they've had a bat, we're hoping to get a few wickets early and then get into their longish tail."

The Sri Lankan middle order last batted in a match nine days ago against New Zealand. Only Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews got into double figures. Against Zimbabwe, 17 days ago, only Kumar Sangakkara did. Their middle-order woes are similar to South Africa's and after the performance New Zealand put in to cripple South Africa, Sri Lanka will do well to be wary of an attack that thrives on patience and pressure-building.

There's also something else they now base their game on, which Nathan said is renewed passion, the feeling that has turned the whole team into rock stars, even if it's only to themselves. "The passion and the pride and the emotion of how we finished it [the game against South Africa] off and every wicket meant so much. If we can keep working on that pride and that emotion then I think everything that we do will be from the heart. If we can keep fighting and keep working our butts off then hopefully things will come our way."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Comments: 29 
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Posted by Heshan on (March 29, 2011, 20:15 GMT)

@PUREAU South Africa struggled because of their middle order batmen weaknesses and dnt forget that they also have beaten by England for a lower score so idnt think SA was had edge for this world Cup.i dnt mean SA is not a good team.it is quite quality team.

just think in more practical way do you believe if NZ could beat India in this WC 2011? No way man.

Anyhow Now what happen was SL won against NZ...so now we need to prove India against PAK match.. if India win that match it will be a great Final to watch rather than watching one-sided match!!!

Posted by David on (March 29, 2011, 8:20 GMT)

@HeshRu ok so with your opinon would you have said that if South Africa vs india was the other semi final that if Nz won this semi, South Africa vs Nz would have been a 'one sided match' I believe you would but NZ still beat them, so your principle is silly sir.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 29, 2011, 7:42 GMT)

It is very hard to play against a team which has nothing to lose especially the 50 over game. The pressure is on the Sri Lankans and in the last game they dropped easy catches usually they are a great fielding side.

Posted by Heshan on (March 29, 2011, 6:18 GMT)

that was funny!!! if SL meets PAKISTAN , they will be definitely win without having any trobel.at group stage they lost it by just 10 runs and they evenb played without having Malinga.so it is clearly see that Pakistan is even they considered as a strong team.If India VS. Sri Lanka.that would be a great Final!!! that is going either way if Sri Lanka plays against pakistan is going to be a onesided match ..and if india playing against the new Zealand again One sided match..All we want to watch thw Finals between India Vs Sri Lanka!!!

Posted by Dinusha on (March 29, 2011, 5:37 GMT)

in reality NZ supporters should learn the differences of the capabilities and the performance of both teams and learn that SL is a team complete with record holders unlike NZ, and this mighty team performed well throughout this season even before the world cup begins, NZ team just came in to Semi because of luck, and this is a complete out class bunch, i am still worrying today that we missed SA team in semi final, the best team so far next to India,

You guys just turn all these mutt comments about your NZ out class cricketers and watch the match how they are loosing to a world class cricket team like SL today,

Posted by cool on (March 29, 2011, 1:32 GMT)

I think Srilankans should PRAY that PAK loose in semi finals.If Pak gets through then SL are out in final..they are going to get thrashed badly by pak. Against India atleast they will have some hope to win with their variety in bowling, but if vs Pak then its going to cost them too much.Murali please get well soon!!!!!!I don't want toothless bowling from SL in your absence.

Posted by Sialkoti on (March 29, 2011, 0:50 GMT)

No chance against SriLanka for NZ

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 28, 2011, 19:22 GMT)

If NZ can get the Sri Lankan top four for say 150-170 then the match will become really interesting.. Waiting for a competitive semifinal to precede the mother of all games on wednesday..

Posted by Ashok on (March 28, 2011, 15:12 GMT)

Beating SA is one thing but beating SL on their home ground is almost impossible for NZ. SL is one of the strongest ODI team and are capable of beating most teams on their home ground. I would be glad for NZ if they can cause this upset. But for this to happen, Guptil, McCullum, Taylor, Ryder, Vettori & Oram should all produce even if their scores are in 40"s. Brandon MucCullum showed strong potential of an outstanding ODI player but he is very inconsistent as is Ryder.Williamson showed promise but he too is inconsistent.On the other hand SL's first 4 batsmen are each capable of scoring centuries having already done so.Similarly in bowling, SL's attack has pace + Spin which is very strong compared to NZ.So NZ appears to be mismatched in this game which might end up another one sided affair as was the disappointing England Vs. SL game.Can Southee, Oram & vettori dismiss the cream of SL batting? They do need lot of lucky breaks and batsmen making mistakes to pull this upset. Good Luck!

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 28, 2011, 14:49 GMT)

I am hopping that indian will win world cup 11 again.

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