New Zealand v Australia, 1st ODI, Auckland February 2, 2016

Sore McCullum targets victorious finish

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Brendon McCullum on the Australia series: "Certainly the one that we've been waiting for." © Getty Images

And so begins Brendon McCullum Month. It is not officially marked on calendars in New Zealand, probably only because they were already printed when he announced his decision just before Christmas. But expect February to be a month of celebration of McCullum's career, beginning with his final ODI series, continuing with his 100th Test in Wellington and ending with his Test finale in Christchurch. By the end of it, he hopes to hold the Chappell-Hadlee and Trans-Tasman Trophies.

Not that his back would necessarily stand up to holding them at the same time. McCullum has missed the past month with a back injury and returned against Pakistan on Sunday, in New Zealand's victory in the third and final ODI at Eden Park. It was hardly the perfect comeback for McCullum, who was caught hooking for a golden duck, and he said that while he felt the effects of nearly 50 overs in the field, he was confident he could stand up to another month of cricket.

"I was a bit stiff and sore on that first game out, and it was incredibly heavy as well which a lot of guys commented on which has it demands anyway, let along if you've coming in with a bit of a sore back as well," McCullum said on Tuesday. "But I've got three or four weeks left of international cricket and I want to get out there and compete and try and do as much as I can to make a contribution to the team.

"The fact that you're a bit stiff and sore, you try and play through and hopefully it will be fine. But also you don't want to be to the detriment of your team, you've got to make sure you're at a level where you think you're able to operate as well and we'll certainly make an honest assessment of that as we head into each game."

But you get the sense McCullum would have to be physically unable to walk to miss any of these matches against Australia, the one-day and Test series being "certainly the one that we've been waiting for," in his words. The teams last met in one-day cricket in the World Cup final at the MCG but from that side Australia will be missing the retired Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson, the injured Mitchell Starc and Aaron Finch, and the overlooked Shane Watson.

"We had our opportunity in the World Cup and we ran second, but we're really proud of how we played throughout that World Cup," McCullum said. "But it's a year down the track now and both teams have changed quite substantially. For us it's a three-match series with the Chappell-Hadlee on the line and our chance to test our skills against the best."

Well, against most of the best, anyway. Arguably Australia's most in-form batsman at present is Usman Khawaja, who since the start of the home Test series against New Zealand has averaged 123.28 across all formats at all levels. But Australia's selectors are still unable to squeeze Khawaja into the ODI side, preferring Shaun Marsh to open with David Warner in Auckland.

"I was a bit surprised to be honest," McCullum said of Khawaja's omission. "He's been the in-form batsman of the Australian summer across all forms of the game. He's in incredible touch ... the guy replacing him Shaun Marsh is a very good player as well and we saw that in Adelaide. Australia have so much depth they can afford to have guys missing but they'll be replaced by guys who are equally as strong."

Khawaja is a certain starter for the first Test in Wellington, though, and his presence in the ODI squad means that he now misses out on the chance for a red-ball warm-up: he would otherwise have been playing this week's Sheffield Shield match for Queensland. Australia's captain, Steven Smith, said he expected Khawaja to play at some point in the Chappell-Hadlee Series, with the Tests following so closely.

"I think he will play one of the games, at least," Smith said. "He does need a hit going into what is a big Test series for us, and he is batting extremely well, so he is unlucky to miss out. But Shaun is going to get the first opportunity as he played well in Australia and he is batting extremely well as well, so he's getting the first opportunity."

Australia also decided against picking the legspinner Adam Zampa and instead opted for just the one spin option, allrounder Glenn Maxwell, despite the fact that New Zealand have included legspinner Ish Sodhi in their squad for this game. The spin extracted by Pakistan's part-time legspinner Azhar Ali on the same pitch on Sunday showed New Zealand that Sodhi could be a good option, but Smith said Australia preferred to trust their pacemen.

"We think that the wicket might swing around a bit, we saw that in the World Cup game we played here, the ball swung around for a good 30 odd overs or whatever we lasted with the bat and whatever New Zealand lasted with the bat chasing," Smith said. "So, we suspect it will swing around a little bit and we're going to make use of that. So no surprises they've brought in a legspinner, he can play and he's got some good skills. If he gets an opportunity hopefully we can go after him a little bit."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Cricinfouser on February 7, 2016, 5:24 GMT

    Mccullum is one of the guys that revolutionized ODI batting. He might have not scored 10k runs, but his contribution is immense. He has been New Zealand's X-factor for over a decade. Mccullum also deserves credit for popularizing T20 cricket around the world, his 158 knock in IPL and two centuries in T20I are major landmarks.

  • nathan188 on February 3, 2016, 1:34 GMT

    Outside off - He isn't the best in ODIS. Williamson is one of the best though. I would take the guys any day @ nearly 50 average and 90 strike rate....

  • IndianInnerEdge on February 2, 2016, 23:35 GMT

    Am a big B-Mac fan, the way he plays -you just cannot move away from the TV....also the way NZ play-exemplary and awesome....hoping he will go out on a high - playing some cracking innings and one or two awesome diving boundary saves (watch the back...:)....all in all this should be one of the best series of 2016....from a neutral perspective-go both teams, may we remember the games for some awesome skills on display

  • Batter-up on February 2, 2016, 23:15 GMT

    Michael, I was referring to ODI's in which case, you're right - I'm wrong, it's ONLY 2 fifties from the middle order in the last 5 games. Maybe read what I wrote before you get emotional.

  • empross on February 2, 2016, 23:15 GMT

    McCullum has provided plenty of 'throw your mug at the tv' moments, but it's the many more jump out of your seat mega fist pumping moments that will linger for me. His stumps getting shattered by Starc cant taint our image of him cos hes done so much for NZ cricket and provided us with such great moments. Remember him mcscooping Tait for 6 in Christchurch? (Don't think Tait was ever the same again). Remember the WC knocks vs Eng, Aus, Saf? Remember the triple century? Remember the Chappell-Hadlee whitewash and his part in it? Remember the inaugural IPL match? Despite his less than great record, these are just a few of the Baz moments that will linger long in my memory that I will be telling my kids about with pride.

  •   Michael Dickson on February 2, 2016, 12:28 GMT

    @Batter-Up I think you'll find we're 3 fifties from the last 2 games, not 5 games. Two players in the first ODI of the NZ-Pak game got 48 each as well, so nearly 5 fifties from the last 2 games. Nice try mate. If you want to go back a few more games, there was the 3 T20Is against Pakistan where we got 5x50s in 3 games, and also 2 T20Is against Sri Lanka, where we got 4x50s. Then there were 5 ODIs against Sri Lanka, where we scored 6x50s and a hundred in the 4 completed games - we ran out of runs to score in one game we'd won by 10 wickets with Guptill on 93 from 30 balls, so really it could have been 5x50s and 2 hundreds. There's no excuse for not looking that up before making yourself look like a berk.

  • Behind_the_bowlers_arm on February 2, 2016, 12:01 GMT

    McCullum has done a great job bringing NZ back after they seemed a bit of a mess with the Taylor captaincy stuff etc. Playing as well as they ever have in Tests & ODI's. That said he has picked a good moment to finish and then he can get on with making a t20 fortune. Presume he will be looking at the Big Bash along with his work in the English and IPL versions.

  • Outside-off on February 2, 2016, 11:38 GMT

    His most important innings weren't as a Gilchrist wannabe at the top but as a finisher. He helped beat the Aussie on quiet a few occasions as an lower middle order bat. Would love to see him finish that way.

  • Outside-off on February 2, 2016, 11:12 GMT

    I am surprised he was allowed back. Is this series about him? Why!? All the good will & hugs & kiss towards him. Can't quite see why, but it's clear that his popularity is not just restricted to die hard kiwi fans. He pissed me off in ways i can't describe in that final. Two wafts and then done like a dinner by a Starc special. All that hype and build up he gave us 1/2 an over of batting and no runs. Again though it's clear that his successful starts were explosive and thrilling. The scores against Eng, Aus, and that famous semi vs Sth Africa were pretty spectacular. He still had me spitting at the t.v and screamingl because he did not carry the team home. Not even close. That's why the final was such an anti-climax. We all wanted Mccullum to bat and bat well. I want Ronchi to do something, anything to help us win a game. I want to see Corey Anderson stand up and i want to see Kane score 100s.. "Only" 7 so far in ODIs you can't call yourself the best with 7 centuries i am afraid.

  • EdStainsby on February 2, 2016, 10:08 GMT

    I hope McCullum can summon up a few final moments of magic for the Black Caps over the next couple of weeks. He's been a great servant for New Zealand, and he deserves to go out on a high. Maybe he's been a bit too cavalier now and then but, despite what his detractors might feel, I honestly think he's played a style that he believed to be in the Black Caps' best interests. If he's been over aggressive as a batsman, it hasn't been to 'show off', but because he felt that he stood a better chance of succeeding that way than by playing defensively. I think he's a pretty down to earth guy, who has worn the mantle of global cricket superstar with humility. He's done no end of good for cricket in New Zealand, and has inspired others to achieve great things too. Putting aside his achievements as a wicket keeper and fielder (which are not inconsiderable), he's one of those rare 'Bothamesque' type players, who, when they're at the crease, suddenly the crowd sits up and takes notice. Thanks Baz.

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