New Zealand news March 27, 2016

'This New Zealand side has an openness to learn'

Nathan McCullum opens up on his bond with brother Brendon, the camaraderie in the New Zealand dressing room, and his decision to retire
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Nathan McCullum: "We have a good environment; if you can have good people around, who can enjoy themselves, it makes it easy to be around each other and... perform at your best" © Getty Images

Less than 30 seconds and two questions into this interview with Nathan McCullum, he has just about strung a few words together in response. And here I am, attempting to discover why Nathan is more than just the other McCullum, and also gather from him the nature of his relationship with Brendon. If you were looking for a cricketing analogy, it is roughly the equivalent of being run out without facing a delivery. There are all kinds of things running through my head: "This guy is vanilla. He is too politically correct. Have I put him off?" Though McCullum is nice and polite, clearly I am nowhere close to getting what I want.

My warm-up question was on whether the brothers grew up wanting to become All Blacks superstars. His reply: "It was just part and parcel of what you do when you grow up in New Zealand… play sport - cricket, rugby or soccer, or any other sport that is part and parcel of being a young kid in New Zealand." I ask him next about the influence of his father, Stuart, a former first-class cricketer himself, in the younger McCullums taking to the game. The answer: "He played cricket himself, but it was more so a case of being around that kind of thing." Not many cricketing conversations at home? "Yeah, but nothing rare. It was just because we loved it and enjoyed it."

What of the brotherly backyard battles? Surely, there must be a few gems there? "I don't know, really. We played a lot but…" he leaves the sentence hanging, raising my anticipation levels, before completing it with, "Yeah, it's… yeah." I change tack and ask him about his decision to retire from international cricket and whether it was a tough call to make. He finally has more elaborate answers.

"Yes [it was a tough call], and no. There's a whole lot of different factors, but spending a lot more time with my young family is definitely something I am excited about. To look at things after cricket as well - it's the right time to move into my new job, coming up soon. And just body-wise, I am 35 years old, not quite as sprightly as I used to be. It takes a lot longer to recover from injuries and that sort of thing. All in all, it just seems like the right time to be finishing."

I touch upon the Brendon subject a little hesitantly, knowing he must be bored already with a gazillion questions on his brother's retirement and legacy. Nathan says his brother's decision to move on had little bearing on his own decision to retire, and clarifies that his announcement preceded Brendon's.

"We are quite close, yeah," he says of their bond. "We have spent a lot more time playing cricket together for New Zealand than we have had elsewhere, because we have lived in different cities [Brendon lives in Christchurch, Nathan in Auckland]. So it has been a good chance to spend a lot of time... Obviously things will change now and [once] cricket is finished, he is going to be moving up closer to where we were. So we will spend a lot more time together as families."

Before I complete my question on how he deals with comparisons with his brother, Nathan interjects: "There is no real comparison." He thinks it has helped that people have let them be what they are, and their parents are proud of them.

In his nine-year long international career, Nathan has grown into a reliable bowling allrounder in limited-overs cricket, with considerable success in the shortest format, where his 58 wickets have come at an impressive economy rate of 6.82. He has been a handy asset for franchises in domestic T20 leagues around the world. Nathan, however, says there wasn't any conscious attempt to style himself as a short-format specialist. "I always wanted to be a Test cricketer, but things didn't work out that way. But at the end of the day, I am more comfortable with how things have turned up. I love the one-day and T20 games, that's something I thoroughly enjoy, so probably suits my style of cricket and my personality as well."

He comes across as someone who thrives on being a behind-the-scenes man, and his understated efficiency has been integral to New Zealand's spin-bowling unit in the World T20. Despite having played only two of their first four games, his role in mentoring Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner, his younger team-mates, and his work ethic have come in for praise from Ross Taylor.

"Probably having a brother like Brendon, you are always going to have low profile," Taylor joked. "Nathan is very down to earth, a very selfless cricketer who trains very hard. The way he bowled [in Kolkata] was outstanding. It was only two overs, but himself and Martin [Guptill], as the leaders of the group on the field, whether he's playing or not, set the tone. Any time the ball goes to those two players, the batters are in two minds, whether to go for the run or not."

Nathan clearly revels in the mateship that comes with team sport. "Ah, I enjoy being involved in the team. I enjoy the friendly spirit and the camaraderie involved in the team," he says. "I try to make sure that we are always improving and enjoying things. I love being part of the New Zealand cricket team - any team for that matter. I thoroughly enjoy it, and trying to figure out what you can do for your part of the team."

He reckons New Zealand's recent success is a simple case of good people being good cricketers. "We have a good environment; if you can have good people around, who can enjoy themselves, it makes it easy to be around each other and do what you can to perform at your best."

"I think this New Zealand side has an openness to learn. Each individual player, and as a team, we know we are not the best that we can be. If you are always looking to improve, then you are always going to be better. If you continue to get better, it is going to be better for the individual and the team."

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • shane-oh on March 30, 2016, 9:39 GMT

    @OUTSIDE-OFF - well, he spent a long time ranked number one on T20Is, then a long time in and around to top five, so he must have been OK. So you're either uninformed or just determined to insult him regardless of the facts. Both seem equally likely.

  • Outside-off on March 29, 2016, 10:45 GMT

    Cricfan722 thx kindly & right back at ya. I am a proud kiwi and I read with interest what New Zealanders in particular are thinking about the state of the game. May you live in interesting times! I will certainly have to moderate my comments for fear of being the prodigal son!!

  • cricfan722 on March 29, 2016, 7:38 GMT

    Looks like I have arrived at this discussion a day late however seeing what we have now in Santner and Sodhi(albeit in conducive conditions) I'm very excited about the next 10 years. Nathan has scrapped hard for us and could usually be relied on for 20 odd quick runs and a wicket. Not sure if he underachieved or not, but certainly didn't overachieve in the way I hope Santner and Sodhi do. Enjoy your comments @outsideoff particularly for a nz perspective on some of the threads dominated by the more populous countries. Lets enjoy the ride as with this current crop of players I think/hope we can achieve some great results in the next 7-8 years. Go Black Caps!

  • Outside-off on March 29, 2016, 1:26 GMT

    Paying a price? This is a hoot! One of the great joys of cricket is sitting with friends on a couch at home arguing about who is no good & who the best. That article about Ramiz Raja catching hell from Bangladesh is insightful in more ways than one. I don't go out of my way to be articulate. I am not being paid by the word. That anyone notices is flattering. I see my comments pop up now & then during the game commentary. Just throwing it out there. Bit of ad lib, in the moment stuff. I love the game too but i look for honesty & common sense to prevail also. Whatever the situation. I highly doubt Nathan McCullum or anyone else from NZC wastes time reading our comments, and if they do, i doubt they take it to heart. They are thicker skinned that us fans. They have to be. Going into bat for players shows loyalty & that's great. I want what every NZ fan wants. NZ win. How that's achieved is always up for discussion. I have my thoughts & this the forum to air them. Go the Blackcaps!

  • johnthekiwi on March 28, 2016, 20:10 GMT

    @Outside Off: You are paying the price (a little) for espousing an unpopular but heartfelt opinion. I think NM was a battler/scrapper/team man type that chipped in and helped NZ win matches but wasn't a 'match winner' per se at a rate commensurate with his playing time. He was/is an absolutely first rate guy without question and I'm sure will be a good coach type (please keep him away from the commentary box though. Lets put his brief flirtation with that gig in the "papier mache submarine" category of experiment). Like you though OO I want more mongrels and flashy high upside/high risk types in the NZ side. Jesse Ryder may be an out of control character but if I want to win I'm pumping him with Narcon/green tea/oxygen/B12/coffee and sending him out to bat. We were 0-4-1 in tests against Oz this summer guys. Anyone wonder what may have happened at the Gabba if Milne had produced one devastating spell in their first dig? The kind we all knew neither Boult nor Southee would produce?

  • Camstarr on March 28, 2016, 19:20 GMT

    @outside off, your first comment was basically giving the guy a serve as he walked off, you're latest comment is bang on.

  • Outside-off on March 28, 2016, 3:46 GMT

    Last thought on this. T20 is his format. He is a strong part of this campaign & is a valuable contributor. No spite intended. I hope he can go out of cricket as a T20 World Cup winner. That would be the ultimate way to finish his career.

  • blahblah1234567 on March 28, 2016, 3:09 GMT

    outside-off not sure if reaching the semifinals in 2 consecutive world cups (possible finals and maybe a winners) by winning 12 of their 13 world cup matches is called under achieving

  • Outside-off on March 28, 2016, 2:45 GMT

    How does a team move forward if your always warm & cuddly & have nothing to say but positives. I don't understand why anyone would follow an international sports team & not have players they don't rate or like. Those 4 nil defeats bs BD I remember him being our spin option. I think ppl are thinned skinned. Especially when it comes to our South Island brothers. He avg 20 with the bat & took wkts@ 49 if that's your idea of a good players then I am buggered if I know what is. He is indeed an athlete. Not underrated at all. You watch a guy play 50-60 times you seen him perform 2-3 times I have to say he underachieved. But that's been New Zealand's Problem for so long. It's more important to be perceived as a nice guy. Perceived being the key word. Wishing him all the best & if he has half his brothers business nous he will do real well. All the best to him & his family!

  • shortsillypoint on March 28, 2016, 2:11 GMT

    Has he already retired or will he, should he, play against England - that's the big question?

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