'This New Zealand side has an openness to learn'
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