Sri Lanka A v New Zealanders, Colombo, List A September 6, 2009

McCullum upbeat despite defeat

The New Zealanders slid to a 61-run defeat but stand-in captain Brendon McCullum has picked out positive signs ahead of the first match of the tri-series, starting Tuesday, and the Champions Trophy. McCullum identified the absence of Virender Sehwag from India's squad as a potential way to kick at a shaky middle order and knock India out of what he called "a funny series".

Daryl Tuffey's performance, a five-for in his only playing opportunity before he flies out to remind all of his abilities, and a chance to give other limited-overs recruits playing time were the bright spots McCullum pointed to in a warm-up defeat against a side featuring eight internationals.

"It was obviously disappointing to lose here but it was an opportunity to give some of the guys who were short on game time, to just play in these conditions," he said. "Tuffey bowled really well in these conditions, Nathan [McCullum, who opened the bowling] did well, Jesse [Ryder] got a couple wickets. I think we're in good preparation for the one-dayers."

Like Daniel Vettori, McCullum said the Twenty20 wins over Sri Lanka were huge confidence boosters and pivotal to giving this side momentum into a format where they are serious threats. "It brought us back. We were disappointed with the Test matches but the way we came back was significant and gave us a lot of confidence," he said. "The guys coming and the ones from the Tests did fantastically well. All in all, the team is shaping up pretty well at the moment and hopefully we start well in the first one-dayer."

McCullum also took confidence from the amount of time the batsmen have faced Ajantha Mendis on tour. "He's going to be a tough proposition in the one-dayers, but the guys have played him pretty well. If we can negate his ability to tear through batting line-ups that will set us up to be a bit more aggressive later on. So far everything has been going well and hopefully we can gain that momentum again."

The format of the tri-series - each team plays each once and then there's a final - had McCullum a bit quizzical but he was aware that the current calendar didn't allow for long tournaments. He felt it was a great opportunity for New Zealand to play against two quality teams before going into the Champions Trophy.

The absence of Sehwag, out with a shoulder injury, was "a big relief" and an opportunity McCullum hoped to cash in on. "The way he played us in the home summer was pretty terrifying, he tore us apart, but to not have him in the team is a pretty big blow to them [India]. If we stick to our plans we're a really good chance to take India out of the series."

One player who bowled well today and has been a consistent performer in limited-overs was his brother, Nathan, who McCullum felt was going to play a role in the future. "Nathan bowled really well in the last game and was fantastic in the World Twenty20 in England and his confidence is sky high. His bowling has always been good and he's a great fielder and when it's all going well it flows into his batting. Given the opportunity we can expect some good things from him down the order. Whatever happens [in the tri-series] it's great to have three quality spinners in the side.

"It's been good to have Shane back too. He probably doesn't have the genuine pace he had in the VB Series a couple years ago [2006-07] but he's certainly a better bowler with the ability to read the game and read a player. The likes of Kyle Mills and Ian Butler have really stepped up and all in all, it's a pretty decent bowling line-up."

McCullum was cut off today with a poor umpiring call, but sounded a warning to Sri Lanka and India having returned to form with 49 in the second Twenty20. "It was a big confidence booster. Even in the game before, even though I was only out there a couple overs, the calmness that I had at the crease was something missing during the Tests. I probably got a bit flustered there and it was something I tried to work hard on. The last time I went out there and was relaxed and tried to be myself. My confidence is a lot higher that it was two week ago."

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo