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
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."
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