New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 5th day March 26, 2013

Hurt McCullum begins healing process

New Zealand's captain took a team supposedly riven by internal conflicts and struggling at Test level to within in an ace of beating England
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Brendon McCullum looked a broken man in more than ways than one after the final day of the series. By the last session at Eden Park, he could barely walk. He pulled his hamstring chasing a ball to the boundary during the morning, but nothing was going to keep him off the field and he limped into position at slip or silly point between overs.

Most players who field at silly point these days don a helmet along with plenty of other protective equipment. Not McCullum. He stands there, under the batsman's nose, with his New Zealand cap on, stubbled face and steely glint so the opposition player gets an up-close view. As captain he could easily have devolved close-catching duties to a younger member of the team, but he loves nothing more than being at the heart of the action. And that's where he has been throughout England's tour.

Victory at Eden Park would have been McCullum's finest hour, but his side came up one agonising wicket short. You could see it in his eyes, he was shattered - physically and mentally. He may not have scored the defining hundred or taking the crucial haul of wickets, but McCullum's bristling intent was never far away.

"It's not as bad as some of the other parts of my body are feeling at the moment," he said of his hamstring. "It wasn't ideal, but I was trying to stay out there to win a Test so I certainly wasn't worried about my hamstring. My role was to captain the team and pull a few rabbits out of the hat."

And he almost did just that. On the fourth evening he brought Kane Williamson, the part-time offspinner, into the attack with a hunch to bowl at the left-handed Alastair Cook and four overs from the end of the day Cook edged to slip. Williamson also removed the nightwatchman, Steven Finn. In the dying moments of the final day he went to Williamson again and he removed Stuart Broad and James Anderson within three balls.

"It's everything you dream about when you are growing up to be able to be in the park with your team-mates trying to bowl your team to a Test win," he said. "Unfortunately we weren't able to get the win but it was a magnificent Test match and we played our part."

McCullum has galvanised a team that were a shambles a few months ago, a situation stemming from his messy transition to the captaincy, which he was not part of. He inherited the situation and had to try to make it work. Initially, at least, the plan from Mike Hesson was only to have McCullum as one-day and T20 captain while leaving Ross Taylor in charge of the Test team. But such was the breakdown in communication that a complete change of leadership was effected.

There had long been a strong school of opinion that McCullum should be New Zealand's captain, but not like this. It should also be remembered that Taylor's last Test in charge was the team's previous Test victory, when they beat Sri Lanka by 167 runs in Colombo, although that ended a run of six defeats in seven matches. Occasionally, though, out of mayhem comes the beginning of something better. The change from Kevin Pietersen to Andrew Strauss (and Peter Moores to Andy Flower) in the England set-up in 2009 is such an example.

"Everyone has been playing for McCullum in this series, never better shown than by the commitment of his pace bowlers. The efforts of Southee, Wagner and Boult on the final day were testament to that"

McCullum's reign started with a harrowing Test series in South Africa - minus Taylor, who had taken himself on a break from the game - where they were twice blown away by an innings. By the end of that trip the signs of rebuilding were on show as they took the one-day series. However, the challenge of England in the longest format was expected to expose those frailties again, especially after the visitors had finished strongly in the two limited-overs series.

That it has not proved so, and that New Zealand dominated two out of three Tests is a mark of what McCullum has instilled in his players and equally how he has helped the team play as one. In the midst of the Taylor departure there are all sorts of stories and rumours about player cliques and who supported whom; of one thing there is no doubt: everyone has been playing for McCullum in this series, never better shown than by the commitment of his pace bowlers. The efforts of Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Trent Boult on the final day were testament to that.

However, let's not forget Hesson. Yes, the much-maligned coach who, at the height of the controversy, had to contend with what bordered on abuse in some of the comments directed at him. Whatever the absolute truth about which formats he wanted to change the captain for, he clearly knew the leader he wanted was McCullum. He was a new coach and that was within his remit. The way he articulated that to Taylor will not be making any coaching manuals in the future - and the tension has perhaps not entirely dissipated, if Taylor's Test form is any guide - but he was doing what he felt was best for the team.

This series is a pretty strong vindication of that. Hesson and McCullum have between them pulled together a team that has made the best of the resources available. Some of that has happened by accident, some by design. Doug Bracewell would have started the series if not for stepping on glass after a party; his replacement, Wagner, set the ball rolling for New Zealand in Dunedin with four first-innings wickets and has not stopped charging in since. Hamish Rutherford, who scored 171 on debut, would probably not have played if Martin Guptill hadn't been injured. McCullum was forced to open in South Africa by a lack of other options but had always envisaged himself batting in the middle-order position that has brought him seven fifties in ten innings during England's visit.

Hesson and McCullum who, though unofficially, has just as big a say as the coach, can be particularly proud of two other selections. The 34-year-old Peter Fulton is the stand-out success with his triumphant twin hundreds and Bruce Martin, although ending wicketless in Auckland, has not looked out place.

In the short-term, this near miss will hurt but when the dust settles this could be seen as a watershed period for New Zealand. Of course, though, what happens next is vital. They come to England in May for a two-match series, which will be an important marker in the team's development away from home, but there should be nothing to frighten them. In fact, that notion is just the sort of idea to spur McCullum on even more.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JG2704 on March 29, 2013, 11:17 GMT

    @SDCLFC - Just one question. What is the maximum you'd have given Eng a chance of getting?Surely less than 482. Yes it was unlikely that Eng would survive that much time a but surely there was a greater chance of Eng surviving with less time to hold on than winning with less runs to chase NO? Someone said about it being a demoralising total but I'd say it was SO big that Eng would never even think about chasing it.I think you have to look at it , in what the other side would least want and I'd say if you asked an under pressure batting line up whether they'd prefer to see a bigger total ahead of them with less time to bat or a reduced total with more time to bat I'd say they'd chose the former every time. I posted a theory (last comm on the match report) that maybe BM got so involved in being out there in the middle that he didn't realise how far they were ahead etc.Did you notice he seemed to be called in? Why would he not as captain not make the decision himself?

  • SDCLFC on March 28, 2013, 22:33 GMT

    I can't argue with your last point about another hour at Monty but 5 wickets in 90 overs with an unattainable total on the board allowing you to attack without reprieve is not the return of successful tactics or strategy.

  • JG2704 on March 28, 2013, 20:55 GMT

    @SDCLFC - Personally - unless the pitch is likely to break up on day 5 (not on this occasion) or the bowlers were totally knackered (could be) - I'd always make a team follow on. Then you know exactly what you're needing to get in the last inns so if weather intervenes it still gives you a chance. If weather intervenes when you bat again then even with an ambitious declaration you may not have time to bowl a side out. BM(and the bowlers) thinking outside the box was probably the main reason why they were so successful. I mean bowling Williamson at the end was thinking outside the box and nearly won it for them. I really don't see what can be gained by posting such a huge lead at the expense of time. Had they even posted a 400 lead , Eng were never going to get that and NZ would have had an extra hour to bowl Eng out. Would you have backed Monty and Prior to see out another hour?

  • SDCLFC on March 28, 2013, 0:08 GMT

    @JG2704. Was OK with the declaration and not following on. The pitch needs to be bowler friendly to enforce the follow-on. Was always going to be tough to bowl them out but I thought the hard work had been done in the 1st 50 overs when we got rid of Cooke, Trott and Compton. The next 90 overs should've been straight forward. Perhaps he should've tried thinking inside the box. The only thing he didn't try was being conventional. Perhaps sustained periods of seam attack. The seamers had taken 12 of the 14 wickets. 3-4 spells of 5-8 overs could've got more than the 38 overs bowled by Southee and Boult, and however many were bowled by Wagner. I would've thought it was less tiring continuing a spell for a couple of overs than continuously having to start new spells and regain your rhythm. Am fine with him giving it a go his way but am less than convinced with its success given we failed to convert such and excellent opportunity.450 runs and 140 overs should equal victory

  • JG2704 on March 27, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    @SDCLFC on (March 26, 2013, 20:30 GMT) Completely disagree. Think not forcing the follow on and esp batting too long were wrong (and said so at the time) but his on field tactics by and large were spot on. He was thinking outside the box all the time and playing with the batsmen's minds and this was a huge part (imo) in NZ doing so well. The only thing I'd have changed would have been to keep Boult on for longer with the last new ball. Also wouldn't have bowled Kane at the end but then that bore fruits so credit him for that. At the end of the day we had all the luck. If there was no DRS on the final day NZ would have won comfortably and Prior has in the past and will in the future played/play much better and not make 50. He had an extremely fortunate inns

  • JG2704 on March 27, 2013, 10:48 GMT

    @Bring_back_Wright on (March 26, 2013, 21:27 GMT) Agree re Wagner. He was a workhorse and while I think Martin's figures were flattering (Eng batsmen either playing with contempt or showing too much respect) Thought Wagner was always at us and he took the (looking unmoveable) Bell which at the time swung the odds of a NZ win enormously

    @InsideHedge on (March 26, 2013, 23:04 GMT) Agreed 100%. Even with KP in the side there was no need for him to go on batting for so long. Under some circumstances (if he had more time to play with) I'd say fair enough but on a fairly flat pitch , time (as opposed to runs) was the main thing required. Eng would never have chased 400 in such a short time with the safety 1st batsmen they had so there was no risk in declaring earlier

  • SDCLFC on March 27, 2013, 6:23 GMT

    @Baxter. I thought the constant changes were counter productive. Whats wrong with letting our bowlers settle into a rhythm. Consider this. Over 123 Southee into the attack to replace Williamson, gets one to swing violently from over the wicket which Prior gets an inside edge for four. Over 125, after getting the ball swinging from over the wicket Southee is coming round the wicket - perhaps the bowlers call or perhaps the tinkering captain trying a long short. Over 127, Southee is removed from the attack! Bowling changes work when batsmen have settled into a rhythm of countering pressure. But first you need to build pressure over time. How often did we have a seamer bowling at each end. We had 140 overs with 480 runs. I doubt any NZ captain has ever had that equation against a top tier side. Taylor has had two fourth innings opportunities, both overseas, and neither with as much time or as many runs, and he's got his bowlers over the line twice. Again - the emperor's new clothes

  • Bring_back_Wright on March 27, 2013, 4:13 GMT

    @ Winchester - They lose overs for the change of innings. There is 10 minutes allocated for the change, which equates to 2 overs being deducted from the day. I'm just guessing on this bit, but if only part of an over is bowled before taking the last wicket, they probably count that as one of the 90 overs, even if it wasn't completed. Maybe someone can correct me if wrong.

    Re. not bowling the last few balls of the day after a wicket, I agree with you. I would rather the new batsman had to play those deliveries - makes for more drama. I have no problems with it before the lunch/tea break, but at the end of the day it really lets the batsman off the hook!

  • Baxter_P on March 27, 2013, 4:04 GMT

    @SDCLFC I'm not much of a McCullum fan, but your comment is flat out ludicrous. His captaincy and tactics in the field were a major factor in almost winning us the test. The frequent rotation of bowlers and constant movement of the field made it difficult for the England batsmen to settle (not to mention his all-out attacking style with the close catchers). With four bowlers (plus Kane) and 143 overs to bowl, he had to 'chop and change' the attack to keep them fresh - it's also what Crowe and Fleming often did as captains and it's a very good tactic when you don't want batsmen to settle into a groove. Perhaps he overbowled Martin who had a bit of an off day, but let's be honest, Wagner was bowling medium pace on a flat deck and the ball wasn't swinging for him like it was for Trent and Tim. He bowled well at times, but you can't knock McCullum for looking elsewhere at key times (and throwing the ball to Kane almost won the match; and that was unquestionably bold captaincy).

  • Winchester666 on March 27, 2013, 3:40 GMT

    Ok I've watched a bit of test cricket in my life & I love it, I know most things about the game but not every in & out.

    Yes it's a bit of sour grapes with the fact that NZ can dominate England for 5 days & England can claim the match was a draw. But in all seriousness I would find it helpful if someone could explain a couple of things to me...

    Can someone please tell me why that in a test match "unaffected by weather", that only 442.1 overs were bowled when it's supposed to be a "minimum" of 90 a day, or 450 in total. Those extra 7.5 overs could of been absolutely vital to NZ. Why could they not have played for an extra 30 mins to bowl out these remaining overs?

    The other thing I found strange was that after Finn was out on the 1st ball of the last over on the 4th day that England didn't have to send out another batsman to finish off the over. If he hadn't been out, the over would of been completed, so why did another batsman not have to come out to face a few nervy balls?

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