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Why McCullum needs to lift his ODI game

Brendon McCullum's ODI form has dipped over the last three years, with most of his runs coming against weaker opposition

S Rajesh

February 24, 2012

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Brendon McCullum fell for 3, New Zealand v Zimbabwe, 1st ODI, Dunedin, February 3, 2012
Brendon McCullum averages only 25.46 in his last 50 ODIs against the top eight teams © Getty Images
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Brendon McCullum will most likely register a major milestone in the second one-day international between New Zealand and South Africa on February 29 - it'll be his 200th ODI, making him only the sixth New Zealander to achieve that feat. Given that he made his ODI debut in January 2002, it also means McCullum has already completed a decade in international cricket. Those are worthy numbers by themselves, and deserving of a small celebration, but when McCullum looks back at the kind of stats he has notched up during this period, he'll likely be a tad disappointed with his contributions as a batsman. His fans and those of New Zealand cricket will surely be dismayed at his lack of consistency with the bat.

Watching a McCullum innings is often an exercise in frustration. When in the mood, he can play all the shots in the book, and then some. The power, the timing, the hand-eye coordination, and the aggressive intent are all among the skills he possesses. And yet, the inability to put them all together for long enough periods consistently against the best sides means his career so far is one of underachievement, as a batsman at least.

The numbers clearly say so, and what's probably most disappointing is that his one-day performances have regressed over the last three years. Stats show that in the five years between 2004 and 2008, he'd managed a reasonable record, averaging almost 33 against all teams, and 30 against all sides except Zimbabwe and the other non-Test-playing nations. At the end of 2008, McCullum was 27 years old, with seven years of international experience already under his belt, and an integral member of the New Zealand team in all forms of the game.

The next few years should have been the time when he'd have taken his game to the next level, improving his consistency and playing a more meaningful role in a team whose batting has always been fragile, but in the last three years his ODI batting has continued to be patchy. In his last 56 innings, most of which were at the top of the order, McCullum has averaged a shade less than 32, but even that stat is inflated by the runs scored against relatively weak opposition. In the 2011 World Cup, for instance, he scored 101 against Canada, an unbeaten 76 against Zimbabwe, and 26 not out against Kenya, but only 53 runs in five innings against Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa. His overall World Cup average was 42.67, but against the better bowling sides it fell to 10.60.

In fact, in 47 ODI innings against all teams except Zimbabwe and the other non-Test-playing sides in the last three years, McCullum averages only 25.46, with one century and five fifties. In the last two years against these eight teams, the numbers look even more dismal: an average of 18.62 in 24 innings, with two fifties, and a highest of 61. Those are particularly poor numbers, especially when 21 of those innings were at the top of the order, a slot which offers batsmen the best opportunity to settle in and make a significant score. During this period, he has relished playing against lesser bowling attacks, averaging 81.50 against Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya. (A peculiar aspect of McCullum's ODI career is his record against Bangladesh. Most batsmen count Bangladesh's attack as one of the lesser ones in international cricket, but for McCullum it has been a daunting one: in 15 innings against them he averages 22.07, with only two fifties.)

Brendon McCullum in ODIs
Period All ODIs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s ODIs v 8 teams* Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Jan 2002 to Dec 2003 37 16.21 58.74 0/ 1 35 16.21 58.74 0/ 1
Jan 2004 to Dec 2008 102 32.81 98.99 1/ 12 94 29.96 94.38 0/ 10
Jan 2009 onwards 59 31.81 89.25 3/ 7 50 25.46 85.13 1/ 5
Career 198 29.81 89.85 4/ 20 179 26.02 85.63 1/ 16
* All teams except Zimbabwe and other non-Test-playing teams

McCullum in ODIs since 2009
Versus Period ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 100/ 50s
Zim + other NTP* teams From Jan 2009 9 489 81.50 101.24 2/ 2
Others From Jan 2009 50 1197 25.46 85.13 1/ 5
* Non-Test-playing teams

As mentioned earlier, McCullum has opened the batting in most of the ODIs over the last three years - 43 out of 47 innings against these eight teams - which makes his record even poorer. Among openers who've scored at least 1000 runs since 2009 against teams excluding Zimbabwe and the other non-Test-playing sides, McCullum's average of 25.65 is easily the worst. The next-poorest is Mohammad Hafeez's 33.25, while the top ones like Alastair Cook, Hashim Amla and Sachin Tendulkar have averages that are more than twice that of McCullum. The strike rate is usually McCullum's stronger suit, but even there he doesn't fare very well - the top eight in the list above all have scoring rates that are better than his.

His career summary as opener during this period reveals uniformly mediocre numbers: an average of 22.80 in Australia, 18 in Bangladesh, 17.20 in India, and 24.40 at home.

Openers in ODIs v all teams except Zim and other NTP teams since Jan 2009 (Qual: 1000 runs)
Batsman ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Alastair Cook 22 1079 53.95 91.51 3/ 8
Hashim Amla 38 1882 53.77 90.00 5/ 14
Sachin Tendulkar 37 1714 51.93 94.43 6/ 5
Gautam Gambhir 35 1434 49.44 93.05 3/ 9
Shane Watson 59 2563 49.28 93.23 5/ 15
Virender Sehwag 45 1887 44.92 123.41 6/ 4
Andrew Strauss 46 1783 39.62 85.76 4/ 11
Tillakaratne Dilshan 69 2612 38.98 90.88 7/ 9
Graeme Smith 37 1278 35.50 78.79 2/ 7
Upul Tharanga 55 1780 34.90 74.69 5/ 10
Brad Haddin 40 1297 34.13 83.30 2/ 8
Mohammad Hafeez 38 1197 33.25 76.19 2/ 7
Brendon McCullum 44 1103 25.65 84.26 1/ 5

New Zealand's batsmen aren't among the most prolific in world cricket, but even among that lot, McCullum's average is the poorest. (With a 400-run cut-off against these eight teams since the beginning of 2009, only Nathan McCullum and Kyle Mills have worse averages.) Both McCullum and Martin Guptill, his opening partner in many of these matches, have played 47 innings during this period - Guptill has 11 fifty-plus scores, McCullum has just six, while Ross Taylor has 14 such scores in 52 innings.

New Zealand batsmen v all teams except Zim and other NTP teams since Jan 2009
Batsman ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
James Franklin 21 422 38.36 78.87 0/ 3
Ross Taylor 55 1664 36.17 77.68 1/ 13
Jesse Ryder 23 740 35.23 95.36 2/ 4
Martin Guptill 49 1430 33.25 79.35 1/ 10
Scott Styris 29 733 31.86 80.02 0/ 5
Grant Elliott 30 613 30.65 69.73 1/ 3
Daniel Vettori 44 649 25.96 89.88 0/ 1
Brendon McCullum 50 1197 25.46 85.13 1/ 5

In Tests McCullum has lifted his game during this period, averaging 40.58 against the top seven teams, with three centuries in 17 Tests, but he needs to do much more in ODIs. A strong, run-filled series against South Africa won't be a bad way to start.

Edited by Siddarth Ravindran

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Posted by   on (February 27, 2012, 17:49 GMT)

being a huge fan of mucullum....i always thoght dat he is the best cricketer newzealand has ever produced...he has so much of talent....but unfortunately he is nt able to perform in odi....he has to blame himself for dat...not doing justice to his talent

Posted by   on (February 27, 2012, 5:53 GMT)

I think McCullum have responded to this article very well. Hope he will continue it.

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 14:50 GMT)

Interesting Avg.now.......29.99.Well at-least he proved that he is a good enough player in the first match....I wish he goes on the score a century in the next match(his 200th!)

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 2:07 GMT)

I back him 100% and McCullum would always be in my NZ 11. The fact that this article has been written is testimony to the attention he gets not just from the press. It would be interesting to see how NZ has done without McCullum in the team during his ODI career. For a population of just over 4 million NZ does not have the luxury of large population base like England, India, Australia or South Africa to draw upon for players and yet we are competitive. McCullum for me represents the dogged determination that the NZ team displays and needs against opposition that usually looks better on paper (stats).

Posted by katodadon on (February 25, 2012, 1:55 GMT)

Been saying this for years! A lot of the NZ guys get by on coasting through a series and getting 1 good score every few months, because we simply dont have the depth to drop them. Just look at the quality of test keepers we have because McCullum now refuses to keep in Tests. At least he has somewhat justified that by scoring 200 against India, although India doesnt really have any good bowlers..McCullum really is suited to the end of innings role, here is the team I would pick ....Guptill, Nicol, Ryder, Taylor, Williamson, Franklin, B McCullum, N McCullum, Mills, Southee, Bracewell

Posted by philknight on (February 25, 2012, 1:51 GMT)

@Mark Raymond Broom - Dan does not want to play ODIs at the moment to extend his career but otherwise I would put him in there. @nskaile - yep Williamson is 3 or 5. It is difficult to decide where to put him! McCullum is a good player but he is not delivering in the short forms of the game. That is clear. Keep him as a finisher and make him concentrate on test opening. That is the most important job he now does for NZ cricket.

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 0:37 GMT)

this is a very very comprehensive look at his recent form and I was somewhat amazed reading it. I have always been a fan of McCullum because I feel like there are few who are better when he plays to his potential. Unfortuantely I am aware this happens once in a blue moon, which is such a shame to see someone capable to so much achieve so little.

But never did I think his recent form was this terrible. I feel slightly embarassed for him.

Posted by   on (February 25, 2012, 0:28 GMT)

Taylor is NZ's best batsman and has to bat 3. 200 ODIs is a good sample. McCullum simply hasn't delivered. He's a good finisher and should stick to that. He lacks intelligence to make meaningful contribution as a batsman. His displays of bravado is to hide his lack of impact.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 23:38 GMT)

I'm a Kiwi, and everytime he's batting its a frustration for us because we're always down a wicket within the first few overs. If he was going to stay in the team, he should bat at 5 or 6 and try become part of a traditionally strong Black Caps middle order.

Posted by Spelele on (February 24, 2012, 22:16 GMT)

I've always said that ALL these Kiwi batsmen are minnow-bashers (including Guptill!). They will find it very hard to cope with SA's classy attack. Their best batsman (Taylor) is at best good (his averages are ordinary at best). This is due to his poor technique which would make it hard for him to survive even one or two overs from Steyn and Philander. The batting is where the Kiwis will lose this one.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 17:52 GMT)

It seems to me that he hasn't justified his decision to give up the gloves to focus on his batting in Tests and extend his career. He's really not a batsman solely, he needed the keeping to justify his spot in my opinion.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 17:02 GMT)

This sounds like an article I could have written myself! Exactly my thoughts and frustrations about McCullum! Unfortunately he is not the only Kiwi to suffer from the 'underperforming' tag. I would put Fleming, McMillan, Ross Taylor, and probably a few others into that category as well. Tremendous talents, but never seem to deliver on their potential due to not getting their head, their intent, their focus right. The new crop of players coming through, although perhaps not having the same degree of raw talent, seem to have more of a grasp of the head game. Guptill, Williamson, and possibly Nicol will go on to have better stats than the more talented Taylor/Ryder/McCullum because of this.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 14:09 GMT)

I surely don't think that he is overrated.....I mean he has had his fair share of success test match double century (225) vs India......A T20I century against Australia.....He also holds the record for highest individual score in all T20 matches(158) The only negative that I see that he suffers from is inconsistency and bad luck at times.......I wish him luck and want to see him contributing big in the series against SA and answering to all the critics with his bat!

Posted by Noball_Specialist on (February 24, 2012, 12:47 GMT)

The numbers don't lie. McCullum is overrated. He's no better than Tamim Iqbal.

Posted by stormy16 on (February 24, 2012, 12:43 GMT)

Agreed but all opposition team meetings would have time devoted to getting McCallums wicket which is a sign of the impact the guy can have. I think NZ have messed around with this without a clearly defined role. He has batted just about all over the place and kept wickets and not and kept again - no wonder he is inconsistent. I think they need to give him a long term role in all forms of cricket now before its too late. Would be intereting to see his batting records when he keeps wickets to measure if there is a pattern which could be a decisive factor in the role he plays.

Posted by Highflyer_GP on (February 24, 2012, 12:21 GMT)

lol @ that one table. Talk about minnow-bashing.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 10:44 GMT)

As a NZ fan I think that McCullum is arguably the most overrated cricketer in the world.

Posted by NanoTechnology on (February 24, 2012, 9:58 GMT)

Give him some time a 3, and make have a look at his numbers in 12 months or so.

Although I've never been convinced that moving him from the lower middle order was a good idea. For a while the finishers of Oram, McCullum, and Franklin were world class, and completed some memorable chases. Alas due to injury, moving to open, and lack of selector confidence/bowling form (respectively) it didn't last. Feels like a long time ago.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 9:51 GMT)

I think he himself has realized his inconsistency as he himself is trying not to play the extravagant shots early on in his innings ......as we saw in all three of the T20s. Maybe this series can be the turning point of his career......Best Of Luck Baz!!

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 9:14 GMT)

i thin the inconsistancy would come down to the fact there is no role clearly defined for hm when he is batting...the public and media want to see him at his explosive best all the time. Moving down to #3 should help define his role as the person to rotate the strike and play second fiddle to Guptill or Nicol. This gives him plenty of time to build an innings and explode at the end. i say give him a decent chance in this new role and see what happens!!

Posted by nskaile on (February 24, 2012, 7:30 GMT)

@philknight I like ur odi list but I would keep Williamson at 3 cuz he's not a big hitter like Taylor or Bazz. At #3 he's best choice cuz he like to make his runs by takin ones and twos so I think he's the best choice at tht number and Taylor at 4, nicol at 5 and Bazz at 6, Franklin, nathen, bracewell, southee, mills/boult.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 7:24 GMT)

he is just utter watse,sehwag like players will play well only against stronger bowling

Posted by   on (February 24, 2012, 7:21 GMT)

What about Vettori Phil? Anyway, that team has nothing on: 1. Levi 2. Amla 3 Kallis 4 de Villiers 5 Duminy 6 Du plessis 7 A Morkel 8 Bothal 9 Steyn 10 M Morkel 11 Tsotsobe

Posted by cricketcritic on (February 24, 2012, 7:09 GMT)

McCullum is often spoken about as an "underachiever". Why? I think its because he often bats beyond his skill limits, hence his inconsistency. So is he an underachiever, or a guy who simply lacks the discipline to reign himself in and develop consistency in his game. My best memories of him are great middle order efforts against Australia to win NZ games, but those were some time ago now.

Posted by philknight on (February 24, 2012, 5:13 GMT)

Thanks for this. It is very interesting how he has declined after being put at the top of the order. We looked to him to replace Astle but he has not delivered. There was huge debate when he requested to open because McCullum was a fantastic finisher. He won matches for his country and helped us chase down some mammoth totals. He can clear the fence but it is also his sharp running that makes ones into twos, that are so useful in the closing stages of a match. How is this for an ODI side? 1. Guptill 2. Ryder 3. Nicol 4. Taylor 5. Williamson 6. Franklin/Latham 7. B McCullum(to float) 8. N McCullum 9. Bracewell 10. Southee 11. Mills/Wagner

I am unsure about Brownlie in ODIs.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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