Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 2nd Test, SSC, 3rd day

What's ailing Brendon McCullum?

Brendon McCullum's attitude doesn't reflect his ambition to become the world's premier wicketkeeper-batsman

Jamie Alter at the SSC

August 28, 2009

Comments: 24 | Text size: A | A

Brendon McCullum walks off after being dismissed for 18, Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 2nd Test, SSC, Colombo, 3rd day, August 28, 2009
Brendon McCullum's inability to restrain his natural aggression is hurting New Zealand © AFP
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Is Brendon McCullum becoming a problem? He won't admit so, but his inability to curb his natural aggression is hurting New Zealand.

McCullum's presence means so much to this New Zealand side. Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder, before him, are sandwiched between a woeful top order and the absence of a quality allrounder at No. 6. After McCullum comes a weak tail and he hasn't been successful at batting with the lower order. When the chips are down he almost always starts swinging. New Zealand's batsmen are largely inexperienced in subcontinent conditions but McCullum's dismissals this series - and a few times this year - have been more due to poor application.

McCullum is a supremely talented player but his Test figures don't reveal that. While his limited-overs career has soared, McCullum's batting in Tests leaves a lot to be desired. Just three centuries in 45 matches, including one each against Bangladesh - five years ago - and Zimbabwe.

McCullum's talent and ball-striking ability have never been in doubt. His promotion to the international scene was seen as a major investment by selectors. He had a credible CV on the domestic front, yet a couple years into his international career it was evident he was more skilled in limited-overs cricket. While over the past two years he's shown a maturity to carry the innings in times of trouble in ODIs, McCullum hasn't repeated the feat in Tests. True, he's been shunted up and down the order due to New Zealand's relatively inexperienced but perennially shaky line-up. But this is an explosive player who wants to be the world's best wicketkeeper-batsman. His attitude doesn't reflect it.

What has stood out most is his frequent lapse in concentration. On his maiden trip to England, in 2004, McCullum was promoted to No. 3 and responded with a ballsy 96 to give New Zealand an outside chance of victory at at Lord's. McCullum was pushed up the order during the Tests against England in early 2008 and when he fell for 97 at Lord's again, he admitted that for four years he'd thought about that 96 and how hungry he was to get a century in England. "You do have to rein yourself in a touch, not because of the Twenty20 stuff, but because of my natural aggressiveness," he said then. "It's not so much the technical change, it's the mental shift."

Something isn't working. Maybe it's a healthy diet of limited-overs cricket. Maybe it's the pressure of a wobbling top order. But the most glaring reason is a lack of patience.

Something isn't working. Maybe it's a healthy diet of limited-overs cricket. Maybe it's the pressure of a wobbling top order. But the most glaring reason is a lack of patience. He just doesn't seem capable of batting out sessions when the chips are down. True, he has been on the wrong end of some poor decisions this year, notably against West Indies and India, but McCullum is not pulling his weight. Rarely has McCullum grinded his way out of tough situations.

The difference between a good and a very good batsman is the ability to make starts count. In McCullum's case, what is hampering his average is his tendency to throw it away after getting a start. After judging the measure of the attack and crossing 20, he has fallen 23 times before 49. In recent times, Daniel Vettori has been a better batsman. He averages 39.11 in his last 26 Tests, against McCullum's 29.32. Vettori has been exceptionally gifted in judgment, patience, technique and run-scoring. McCullum has appeared as if caught in a fog of indecision.

Against Bangladesh in Chittagong last October, he threw away his wicket when New Zealand were 99 for 5, chipping to mid-on. In the first innings in Adelaide last year, he batted 100 balls for 30 before playing a half-hearted drive, seemingly anxious to do something. In the deciding Test at home against India in April, he edged a cut off a wide delivery from Harbhajan Singh when New Zealand were 181 for 8. In the next innings, McCullum was out playing an expansive drive when the need of the hour was solidity. He can point to an aggressive 115 the Test before - his first century against formidable opposition in Tests - but when he walked in the score was 415 for 5.

In the first innings in Galle, with New Zealand 188 for 5, McCullum walked in and made 1 before he pushed feebly at Thilan Thushara and had his middle stump uprooted. At the SSC today, he remained torn between attacking and defending, and edged a doosra to slip. Taylor put it down to inexperience in the subcontinent. "Not just Brendon, we've all struggled. I won't single him out; we all had a job to do and haven't done it."

But McCullum is something of a veteran in this side and his indifference in the middle has hurt New Zealand. You expected more from him in Sri Lanka. McCullum has typically been used at No. 7, but New Zealand's relatively inexperienced batting line-up meant he became a more important middle-order man. Vettori has supported McCullum's desire to settle at No. 5 but that always hasn't worked out. Against Australia last year, McCullum moved back down to No. 7 and was uncharacteristically restrained; in fact he admitted his approach had changed since moving down a spot. He hasn't replicated it here.

Having kept wickets for long periods in this series, he would have watched Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera, two men as outwardly tranquil as an entire ashram, bat hours on end before turning aggressive. For New Zealand's future, McCullum must soon find that perfect balance.

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

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Posted by RichDeGroen on (August 29, 2009, 14:55 GMT)

McCullum must be the most frustrating of all the inconsistent performers in the NZ side right now. Those that suggest he should just play his natural game - I have some news for you. His natural game is recklessness and soft dismissals. He's been doing it for nearly 50 tests and his average is bad and getting worse. A lot of the runs he has scored have been in pointless 4th innings slogs when the game is up. He needs to get his batting sorted out and do some hard work to tighten it up. No-one slogs their way through test cricket no matter how good their eye. I honestly think one of the problems he has is that he is an automatic selection, and therefore no accountablity for his consistent underperformance in tests. I think one of two things should happen - either he should be dropped for a keeper who is prepared to earn us some hard runs in the lower order (even if they are less talented) - or take the gloves off him and make him hold his place a batsman. NZ need some runs from him.

Posted by IanJF on (August 29, 2009, 14:34 GMT)

Now now guyz.. Stop "over-battiering" New Zealand here. The fact is they are losing to a supreme bowling regime in cricket. SL arent No-2 ranked in test by a coin toss. Yes, NZ should pull up their socks and give it a fight and McCullum my friend you need to be batting in the top order mate !!

Posted by jazzjazna on (August 29, 2009, 13:41 GMT)

its not only in the case of his performance,his skills in his captaincy for the team, if after daniel vettori, must also be taken into consideration.His captaincy for the kolkata night riders really tested his character of being a captain .Losing 8 consecutive matches in a row in the IPL he underwent a lot of stress in raising the team to a fine position, but in vain.In the case of his performance, i agree with many of the comments made by the people, patiency is what he lacks and he must try for it, for it is always the key to victory.but I am sure he will come as good as new if really focuses to do well to gain his role as a wicket keeper-batsman for his team.I would be really happy on the day he emerges for he is one of my favourite players

Posted by blackcock on (August 29, 2009, 12:38 GMT)

As a kiwi, I cant begin to explain how disappointed I have been with the Black Caps over the past few seasons. Today I want to talk about test cricket, and I must say this team is seriously WEAK! Chris Martin: Just plain ordinary, hes what you call a "has been" or "never was". Obrien: Has potential if he becomes more consistent with his line and length. Patel: Average, needs to become more consistent with line and length. Oram: Is a has been who must be dropped ASAP. McCullum: I think he should be dropped ASAP, not good enough for someone who could offer up a lot more.Flynn: Too inconsistent, should be dropped. Taylor: Must stay but needs to accept more responsibility. Guptill: Should stay but should not be opening. McIntosh: No good, get rid of him ASAP( try Redmond). Ryder: Needs to accept more responsibility and lose some weight. Elliott:Deserves a chance, shown he has good fight in the few games played. Vettori: Need to kick his players arses much harder! Moles:Get rid of him ASAP!

Posted by crazytaurean on (August 29, 2009, 12:17 GMT)

McCullum is arguably the best batsman in the kiwi line up. Your best batsman should bat at No 3 or 4 and not No 6. Daniel Flynn, with all due respects has never helped the team's cause. He should bat at No 6 instead of McCullum.

Posted by plow on (August 29, 2009, 12:06 GMT)

Totally agree with NZCampbell, this author is wrong.

Brendan McCullum needs to play his natural game, use his feet and be given the freedom to hit the ball hard. Making him poke around is handicapping the guy and taking away his main weapon. The blame lays with NZ's top order. They are not getting NZ any decent starts, so when Brendan comes into bat he is already forced to save an innings. If he gets out slogging in this situation people would start calling for his neck.

If the top order did its job Brendan would have the freedom to play his natural game.

Which he should always do. Hit that damn ball Brendan, just hit it.

Posted by vigneshenoy on (August 29, 2009, 11:46 GMT)

McCullum is a key player for kiwis,probably out of colour now,that does'nt mean he should be dropped all of a sudden.He needs to be promoted up the order in test matches,number 4 would be appropriate and vettori should come in at number 6. The biggest problem which New Zealand has faced post 2007 world cup is the retirement of several valuable players like astle,fleming,styris,mcmillan etc. But there are some good prospects like Flynn,Eliott,Ryder etc who can be given some chances to prove their ability.They have to follow trial and error method with selection atleast for next 4 months

Posted by scrubz on (August 29, 2009, 10:16 GMT)

Agree with Mobiasprime.I haven't been impressed with McCullum for the last year in fact. I would drop OBrien but keep Oram though even though he has been struggling. Where is Mr Bond?all very well him playing for the A side in India where we need him in SL!

Posted by jamesb on (August 29, 2009, 9:44 GMT)

McCullum is one of the most underachieving players in world cricket. 3 centuries in 45 tests? Says it all. And 2 of those barely count coz they're against rubbish opposition. He's ok in the candy floss of 2020 but when a fight is needed in difficult circumstances in a test match he's nowhere to be seen. Just because he smashes it miles every 7 or 8 inings does not make him a good player. Totally inconsistent. Vettori's efforts put him to shame.

Posted by D.V.C. on (August 29, 2009, 8:47 GMT)

"...the absence of a quality allrounder at No. 6. After McCullum comes a weak tail and he hasn't been successful at batting with the lower order." WTH? Firstly McCullum himself is at No. 6, he is talented enough to be there (which I believe is the point of the article). After McCullum (i.e. the "weak tail") includes Jacob Oram (Test Average 36), and Daniel Vettori (Avg 28, 3 test centuries), and then Patel who has a 1st Class century. Fair enough O'Brien and Martin are bunnies but they are only 10 and 11, how can you possibly consider that a weak tail!?

Posted by TiwariIndia on (August 29, 2009, 7:58 GMT)

Well, I would say he is underused by his captain Dan. If a captain is continuously seeing a failure of a player in a certain position, why can't he shuffle it? I think he should be promoted to open the innings and give an aggressive start to his time, the way Sehwag, Dilshan and Gayle have been doing for their team. I feel pity for the black cap holders that they haven't learnt the lesson yet but I would love to see Mccullum opening the inning sooner or later.

Posted by NZcampbell on (August 29, 2009, 6:44 GMT)

I thought this article was terrible. While Mcullum's lack of concentration and ability to calm down is annoying, its obvious and irrelevant to the Sri Lankan series. IF ANYTHING, he is playing pathetic because he is NOT playing aggressive. Are you even watching the game?! All he does is block, and after a while nicks one (as you do). If anything, he should go out there, realise the spinners will toil away and win in the end, so why not bash em around a bit and unsettle the people in close.

Really. His problem is that he actually thinks about calming down. Gilchrist was always a boomer, always swashbuckling, always going after the bowler unless the situation required him to dig deep. Mcullum should be exactly the same. He is a attacking batsman, he shreds 4s and 6s, and he shouldn't stop doing that just because its test cricket. People like Gilchrist and Sehwag have shown us slogging is fine.

Posted by The_Wog on (August 29, 2009, 4:47 GMT)

NZ's best batsmen is Vettori, so in that context a bloke averaging 29 is virtually a batsman-keeper rather than a keeper-batsman. There's plenty of keepers who don't average that, so thinking about dropping him would be suicide. Yes, he can do better, but the bloke you're considering replacing him with certainly can't. Don't do it.

Posted by rohanbala on (August 29, 2009, 2:05 GMT)

Brendon McCullum has to first realise that it needs tremendous amount of patience to bat in a Test match and he would have definitely learnt a lesson or two from watching the likes of Mahela and Thilan Samaraweera in the current series. His only notable innings was in the first match of the IPL first edition. Unless he switches to the test mode, he might find himself dropped from the team. Another player who enjoys a long stint in the team (without any notable contribution with either bat or ball) is Jacob Oram. How long will he remain and when will he contribute for the success of the NZ team, is a big question mark. He keeps scoring 20s (thats what we used to call in our playing days as "paper score") and remains in the team.. Thats not definitely what is expected from an allrounder.

Posted by youfoundme on (August 29, 2009, 0:48 GMT)

I hate to admit this about my favorite player, but he too can really get under my skin. He can play a really awesome shot, then hit one straight to a fielder. The lack of concentration skills are prominent, and he needs to start focusing on that if he wants to become one of the best wicket-keeper batsmen of all-time. There is no doubt the technique and skill is there, but if you aren't concentrated enough they're no good. As for sacking McCullum, you would have to be an idiot to do so. He has so much to offer New Zealand cricket and after sacking him what do you think he'll do? Probably join Nathan Astle in the new APL, and become a folk hero... McCullum can improve and I think his time might just be around the corner.

Posted by Mobiasprime on (August 29, 2009, 0:04 GMT)

Yea he is definitely all about potential which doesn't mean Jack. I would tell him to clean up his act and drop him for a few games. Bring in Gareth Hopkins or Mcgalshen too early for Reece Young. Try Elliot for Oram. Can't think why there is no Tuffey and Bond who both would have the most experience playing in Asia. Ian Obrien just continues to bowl a tad short. So Bond has to come in for Obrien with out a doubt. He wants to play so let him have the cherry. I think Glenn Turner needs to smell the flowers. I would also be re thinking about Franklin too.

Posted by themandible on (August 28, 2009, 20:53 GMT)

gdubnz - oram is weak. he averages 26 in the last 3 years, and half of those runs have come in three innings. he looks suspect against spin bowling and is undone by full or short pace. he has zero confidence and hardly plays any first class cricket to try to keep his body going.

Posted by VimNZ on (August 28, 2009, 20:43 GMT)

Don't agree that McCullum is over-rated as he has shown recently with his ODI performances which he now needs to translate into the test arena. That 96 against England was an amazing innings but unfortunately he has not been able to carry this on. Agree that he is probably one of the most frustrating players to watch for the above reasons. As for the NZ team I think we just simply don't have the talent. We have always been a workman like team apart from a handful of players hadlee, crowe, cairns we just simply have not been blessed with the takent that other teams possess hence we will always struggle to be in the top 3 teams in the world. Be intresting to see just how this young team develops over the next couple of years especially in reagards to rhyder, guptill and possibly even southey

Posted by jblades on (August 28, 2009, 19:39 GMT)

valid points by geedubnz. It's the inconsistency which is the issue. Both McCullum and Oram have or have had the goods at the top level, they just need to become tougher mentally about applying it when out of form. I feel that maybe Oram's time to go is nearing but would be happy if he proved me wrong.

in respone to since7 you are barking up the wrong tree. You may want to portray West Indian and NZ cricketers as itching to gobble up T20 riches but spare a thought that those two countries' cricket bodies are low on resources and cash-strapped. They are small fry compared to the bigger nations and have been unwilling victims of the India-driven mania for quick and fast hit out cricket. Both teams have done remarkably well given their relatively small player bases. You can hardly blame players who get paid peanuts for joining IPL circus.

IMPORTANT: The ICC needs to act now to make sure that test cricket is valued higher than any other form of cricket. That's the answere

Posted by kuroneko on (August 28, 2009, 17:16 GMT)

This article needed to be written. I am a Kiwi and a lifelong NZ fan and McCullum frustrates the hell out of me. He has so much talent. It's not so much patience that is the problem, in the test side Baz seems totally unsure as to his role. He oscillates between impersonating Chanderpaul and Gilchrist, and fails at both. As for the previous comment, um, your criticism is strong but the simple fact is McCullum won't be dropped. There is no-one, literally, to replace him. And therein lies the problem. If Baz knew his place in the team was insecure he would have to fight for it more. At present the same goes for Oram, and even Taylor (how much did he want that century. Really). If Baz was an Aussie, he'd have the likes of Haddin and Manou breathing down his neck. If he was English, there'd be Prior and Ambrose. But in NZ there's nobody. What we're left to rely on are players, like Vettori, who are singularly driven, students of the game, inspired by driving up their own stat

Posted by kartikvenu13 on (August 28, 2009, 16:37 GMT)

i think this is the first time ive heard of dhoni having more technique than mccullum. as for concentration, youre spot on. throughout his career mccullum and probably shahid afridis they've been getting out after good starts.

Posted by since7 on (August 28, 2009, 16:19 GMT)

every time i watch and hear the kiwi and the windies cricketers i get the impression that they are itching to quit test cricket and play the cash rich leagues instead.Their attitude has been very poor towards test cricket.I remember the age old adage abt new zealand cricket"Its difficult to be dropped out once you enter the team and difficult to enter the team once you are dropped".Add oram to mccullum's list too.He has been equally worse but i think they dont have the options.Oram and brendon may do badly in tests but a couple of good ODI performances puts them back into the limelight.The best option would be to drop these 2 cricketers for a series or two and see how they react..It will show their true desire to play tests

Posted by geedubnz on (August 28, 2009, 16:07 GMT)

Not sure how you can say Oram (with 5 test centuries) and Vettori (arguably the best no. 8 going around) are "weak" following McCullum. Oram and McCullum haven't performed consistently for a while, but the talent is there. I certainly think the self-titled Chairman who has commented above is being a bit harsh on him - a test century against India earlier this year, and a number of match winning one-day performances against Australia suggest he's good enough, just not consistent enough.

Posted by ChairmanValvod on (August 28, 2009, 15:29 GMT)

Brendon McCullum seems to me, one of the most overrated batsmen of the last five years. I have watched a lot of cricket in the past decade, and compared to other wicketkeeper batsmens around on the international scene, namely, Gilchrist, Haddin, Dhoni, Sankakarra, he is deficient in technique, temparament, and concentration. All three are hallmarks and a must of all good to great batsmen. McCullum lacks all three qualities in abundance. He should not be playing Test cricket period. He barely justifies his inclusion in the 50 over format. Where temparament, concentration, and technique are not necessarily needed to succeed is T20 cricket. He is a perfect speciman for that form. His averages and his actual contribution are almost nil at the two higher forms of the game. The problem maybe thought that NZ probably may not have a better replacements to choose from, from their domestic lineup. Truly a sad state of affairs in NZ, if he's the best they've got. Should be sacked in Tests.

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Jamie AlterClose
Jamie Alter Senior sub-editor While teachers in high school droned on about Fukuyama and communism, young Jamie's mind tended to wander to Old Trafford and the MCG. Subsequently, having spent six years in the States - studying Political Science, then working for an insurance company - and having failed miserably at winning any cricket converts, he moved back to India. No such problem in Bangalore, where he can endlessly pontificate on a chinaman who turned it around with a flipper, and why Ricky Ponting is such a good hooker. These days he divides his time between playing office cricket and constant replenishments at one of the city's many pubs.
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