Kings XI Punjab v Kolkata Knight Riders, IPL, Durban May 5, 2009

The lost and lonely leader

Karna S
The saddest part of this tournament has been watching Brendon McCullum slowly go to pieces

The saddest part of this tournament has been watching Brendon McCullum slowly go to pieces. The swaggering, tattooed hard-hitting batsman has become almost a thing of memory, replaced by a lonely figure wearing an increasingly haunted look as his team stumbles from one nightmare to another.

His trials have not been on the field alone; they have come in the press conferences, where he has attempted to explain the inexplicable. At Port Elizabeth, he snapped at a journalist who asked him whether the exodus of Sanjay Bangar and Aakash Chopra was a sign the team would crack down on poor performers. "What are you trying to get at, mate?" was the terse reply. In Durban last week, asked whether his announcement that he would quit as captain was an emotional reaction, he said, "That's your call. Captains all over the world feel the pressure and I think should be accountable."

Like any top sportsmen, McCullum is a very competitive man and though his national side, New Zealand, don't win everything, they don't lose as badly as Kolkata Knight Riders or look as pathetic. And he has never captained before. "It hurts 20 times more when you lose as a captain," he has said. Especially captain of a team that can't bat, can't bowl and can't field itself through to a win.

Worst of all, the captain has been among the chief non-performers. A man who scored 69 off 55 balls in his last Twenty20 international just over two months ago has been out first ball, has patted short wide balls to fielders, dropped sitters, demoted himself and reinstated himself.

He has tried everything but nothing has worked. That has probably hurt the most. "I have found it difficult to deliver messages to the team without having individual performances to stack up," he said. Only good captains can pull off that trick. Mark Taylor went a year without any batting performances and Sourav Ganguly has been known to get angry with his players for fielding lapses despite being the slowest on the field. It takes strong character and a sense of ownership to achieve it. McCullum's lack of captaincy experience has been shown up in this tournament. He might have made the offer to quit on grounds of accountability but it has perhaps led to an image of a weak captain and a sensitive man under duress.

And alone. Most of his visits to the press conferences have been solo; he's tried to be frank but has often meandered into an emotional ramble. At various times, he has looked like he could do with a comfortable hug.

He got one today in public view. He had just finished the post-match ceremony and was heading towards the press meet when his coach, John Buchanan, stepped from the shadows of the dug out, put a hand over his shoulder and led him all the way to the media room, all the while talking in his ear. It was like an uncle comforting a young nephew over a deeply personal grief.

Buchanan tried to deflect the tough questions to himself and butted in with words of encouragement even when the question was directed to McCullum. "It's no use focusing on the negatives; we have positives to look and something to pat ourselves on our back." Finding water on a desert must be easier than finding positives from this game or indeed this tournament.

Yet he's maintained his dignity and sense of humour. After an earlier match, when presented with an envelope at the end of the press conference, he peered into it before breaking out into a weak smile: "Does it have any ideas for me?" Today, he handled a tough question with a soft touch. "In this competition, where the points table has been a very close thing, only one thing has been constant. Knight Riders have been always at the bottom." There was a collective gasp of silence in the room following the question and all eyes turned to McCullum. His lips somehow managed a smile before he said, "That point has not been lost on us as well. But we can't dwell on that. We need to look at ways to increase our performance; if the results don't go our way it's fine. At least we know we tried."

It's that attitude, that sense of pride, that has won him compassion from even the usually cynical press pack. The talk before the conference today was whether anyone would remind McCullum about his captaincy-quitting promise. In the end, no one asked. Some lines just can't be crossed.

Karna S is a freelance cricket writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tami on May 7, 2009, 12:31 GMT

    @vinaybhatta couldn't say it better. I am not sure why many players are given so many chances even they are not doing anything near OK. Take Agarkar for example, failure after failure. Shukla, he is always trying to go after the ball, never gives himself some time to settle. Ishant Sharma, well another wrong investment by SRK, Ishant is not good t20 player PERIOD. Their bowling attack sucks.

  • Rahul on May 7, 2009, 6:21 GMT

    Remove Ganguly and try to get balance in the team. This season is lost but they can try to trade a few of the overseas players to get some decent domestic players or atleast the sort of overseas players that suit their team composition. They are definitely missing Ponting this year. He could have atleast led the side and utilised the resources better.

    In this regards Delhi Daredevils have gone the right way by selecting most of the players that play for Delhi in the domestic league. This way they know the strengths and weaknesses of their players and can utilise them accordingly.

  • Vinay on May 7, 2009, 5:58 GMT

    Again regarding the entire blame on Buchanan, agreed that he tried to experiment too much on a team, which stays as a team only once in a year and forgetting the basic fact that they needed some time to gel in as a team. Now coming to other culprit, Ganguly, whom I think should have played for his team and supported the appointed captain because he is playing for Kolkatta, and not for SRK. Ganguly has a lot to learn from Dravid who as well was removed from captaincy and was criticized openly by the team owner for the team not performing. Yet today Dravid still is the pillar of support for RCB and stands by his captian and is easily the star performer of the team. Even for that matter Anil Kumble, inspite of being neglected for captaincy for a long time, he stands as the best Indian bowler and one of the greatest spinners of the world. Ganguly may be a performer, but not a sportsman like Dravid or Kumble, he still lacks the maturity and high thinking.

  • Tamzid on May 7, 2009, 4:55 GMT

    I am a big fan of KKR. I have watched all their games and after all that i have only one thing to say is that they need a good team manager. The way the team manager choose his team, it's defenitely not the way we want him to choose. First of all they need to move Ajit Agarkar out of top 11, i dont why they didnt let Mashrafe Mortaza play a single game yet, he is a very good all rounder, he can even hit the ball at any part of the ground. So, i really recommend that they should take Masrafe Mortaza instead of taking Henriques. They should call back Akash Chopra because they need a batsman and he is experience and he have the ability to make some quick runs. I personally dont want to see Ajit Agarkar in the next game .

  • Tami on May 7, 2009, 4:47 GMT

    @Nashdwaj, to be honest with you, the team has no good young Indian talent. The management team is so horrible that they are not hunting for talented young indian players, after all this is IPL why keep playing same bunch of people again and again when they cannot perform. They kicked Mendis after 2 matches and every other team is winning with the help of their spinners. Why Mortaza is not playing. I wonder how SRK is so silent to all this, its just stupid to pay 600kUSD for a player and then not have him even for one game.

    But this team needs young indians, because they will want to do their best some losers are taking things for granted in this team. I am really not happy with Ganguly either. I think he should just leave cricket before he gets any more humiliation and I think there is more coming for him\.

  • Habibur on May 7, 2009, 3:34 GMT

    Hellow KKR people, please include Murtaza if you really want to see a win.

  • sumon on May 6, 2009, 17:05 GMT

    first thing, i dont understand why they annnounced the captain just one day before the game. from the start, they never develop as a team. i think, they should made ganguly captain, at least it could have been better than this. why they keep trying henriques? marshafee could play last match as we already seen henriques capability. above all, i would like to say, players are not responsible for everything. it is the management who is resposible for everything especially bucha.

  • Damian on May 6, 2009, 13:46 GMT Once is forgivable, twice is disgraceful. He is a deserving memnber of The Little Grub Club. He gets no sympathy from this sports fan.

  • N on May 6, 2009, 13:28 GMT

    Responding to Ulio. Ganguly tried to be a big man with a big heart and tried to win a game for KKR. He was desperate to win a game against RR. But he could not do it...that guy Yashpal Singh would not listen to him...After such an effort you know what SRK says...he should have won the game..can he not hit 2 runs from 2 balls..this sort of attitude kills anybody's spirit. Actually you are right the truth is owner SRK is on a planet of his own, toooo much ego that too unabashed. The comments he though he is somewhat special..well all that he has has been bestowed on him by the love of people that make him. You know it can all vanish in a blink of an eye.

  • shamik on May 6, 2009, 12:37 GMT

    I am a huge fan of KKR as I myself reside from Kolkata. I love players from the KKR side. So it hurt alot when KKR loses. The worst thing is that KKR have lost games it should not have. It should have shown what it can do by showing its potential on the field. I think the blame of the dismal performances should go to Buchanan. How can players like McCullum drop sitters. It goes to show that the morale in the field and the dressing room is not good. The owner of the team should have stayed with them despite the team losing. Now KKR are out of the tournament and they should focus on salvaging their pride. Ganguly should be made captain. Buchanan should be told not to interfere. Ganguly and McCullum should open and Henriques should be replaced by a bowler.

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