New Zealand in South Africa 2012-13 December 14, 2012

McCullum hopes rookies step up in SA


To pretend the upcoming series between South Africa and New Zealand is only about cricket would be to remember Hansie Cronje without the match-fixing. Some are able to leave the pleasant parts untainted with the nasty stain of the unmentionables but for most it's unavoidable. At least Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain, is part of the latter camp.

An already challenging tour became much more difficult for New Zealand when Ross Taylor withdrew from the squad. It exposed an embarrassing miscommunication in the administration and although apologies have been issued since, it has still left New Zealand more vulnerable than they would otherwise have been.

"There's obviously been some distractions gone on back home but we know there is a monumental task in front of us. To take it on without some of our better players is disappointing but that's what we've got to do," McCullum said. "A New Zealand team with Ross Taylor involved is a lot stronger."

McCullum is hopeful Taylor will make a return and indications are that he will (though no one knows when) but that is not all the stand-in captain has to think about. Issues aside, New Zealand are also without Daniel Vettori who has not recovered from injury, leaving them without two of their mainstays.

That has left McCullum with the dual role of uniting a fractured unit and overseeing the integration of new players. With a brave face, he accepted both tasks. "We've got a number of big losses throughout our team at the moment but it is one thing to long for those guys to be present but it's another to get on with dealing with the resources you've got.

"We're going to find out a lot about the new guys in the next little while and they are going to be exposed to some pretty extreme circumstances so for the development of the squad and for those guys, it's a really exciting time. From a leadership point of view, we've got to find a way to use the resources we do have, rather than focus on what we don't have."

McCullum has five uncapped players in his Twenty20 squad to work with, including two left-arm bowlers who are likely to get their first taste of international cricket. Corey Anderson and Mitchell McClenaghan are the two being talked about by the coach Mike Hesson as ones to watch.

"We've got some guys with a bit of pace. They haven't got the records of the Dale Steyns or Morne Morkels but they've got some really good skills and hopefully we will see those skills unfold," McCullum said. The other three rookies are all-rounders Colin Munro and Jimmy Neesham, and wicketkeeper Derek de Boorder.

New Zealand's relative inexperience is matched by a similar pushing through of younger players in South Africa's plan. The hosts named four uncapped players in their T20 squad and have a new captain in Faf du Plessis. While New Zealand are still wary of South Africa, they also see opportunity.

"We know South Africa are going to be uncompromising, very fit, strong and disciplined. We know they are an extremely well-skilled team," McCullum said. "South Africa have got a form advantage over us but we're excited about the opportunity to play them. If we put them under pressure and get some of their inexperienced guys to have to deal with that pressure then maybe we will able to learn a bit about ourselves and hopefully come out on top."

Realistically, New Zealand are not expected to do anything more than put up a solid fight over their month in South Africa. It's the concern they will not be able to do even that which they want to quell and McCullum gave an assurance that despite the recent internal strife, New Zealand still have an eye on the game.

"We are a very proud, passionate sporting nation. Cricket is the No.2 sport in the country, it's our summer game and we have always had a lot of support and we hope to continue to do so. We want to make sure we raise our standing in world cricket."

Rather than continue to be a team that scraps to get something out of an impossible-looking situation, New Zealand want to become more consistent. "Historically we've performed a lot better when we've gone in as underdogs," McCullum said. "We want to try and continually improve our performance, not just perform at our best when we are in those situations but when we are expected to win games too."

One of those times is not now. If New Zealand shock South Africa it will be seen as possibly their biggest counterpunch yet. But McCullum is hopeful it could also become the start of a happier, stronger period for the team.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Beige_and_blue on December 16, 2012, 23:35 GMT

    ian45: Though your comments are almost certaimly accurate, the gloating tone is unbeoming. NZ will struggle in SA not least because our 4 best cricketers are staying at home- Vettori, Taylor, Ryder, and most importantly, Southee; who has been among the wolds best pace bowlers in the past 12 months.

  • StevieS on December 16, 2012, 7:28 GMT

    This coming from the guy that NEVER stands up when it counts. I would like to know his average in important world cup matches, my guess would be about 15.

  • mthw on December 16, 2012, 3:12 GMT

    I hope new Zealand loses and McCullum fails miserably.

  • bonobo on December 16, 2012, 1:03 GMT

    NZE really cant afford to be without a player like Taylor. They have a really thin squad, but there is a group of batters and bowlers with youth and potential to grow together. Hopefully the captaincy will lift McCullums game and Gupthill really needs to step up this series.

  • ian45 on December 15, 2012, 19:39 GMT

    who are these guys trying to kid, we walloped you in your own back yard in all 3 formats including a 5-0 odi thrashing, in tests we destroyed the english in there own back yard and beat the ozzies in theres, do you remember the tests innings defeat smack you got last time you were here, well lads thats gonna be mild in comparison

  • NikhilGupta03 on December 15, 2012, 16:48 GMT

    It is highly unfortunate how things have turned around for rossie but maybe on introspection the change was inevitable. Under rossie's captaincy the team lacked the intensity or aggressiveness to help this team punch above its weight as it has done earlier. But all said and done NZ cricket cannot allow a player of rossie's calibre to stay away from intnl cricket too long, specially for the tough series against SA

  • dummy4fb on December 15, 2012, 15:19 GMT

    i feel sorry for ross taylor he was treated very badly he is a great batsman sa will miss him in this series

  • TheJake on December 15, 2012, 12:28 GMT

    Well done NZ... You have your only player that averages over 37 with the bat and had led you to a respectable series in sub-continent and what do you do? Strip his captaincy and drop him. And don't forget to bring in a couple of rookies that can't bat (averages 31 and 9 respectively) nor bowl (both around 40) and still keep Flynn, who is supposedly a specialist batsman that averages less than 30. Watch out for this team...

  • dummy4fb on December 15, 2012, 11:25 GMT

    @ polw; well said... Ross does not need this now, he is by far the best NZ has and he has to go out there and become the greatest batsman NZ ever produced. I hope he comes back better than ever before :)

  • dummy4fb on December 15, 2012, 5:59 GMT

    Well said slader. Very hypocritical statement from mccullum to call for the rookies. Rookies have an excuse to not perform (strait way at least), mccullum is the one that needs to step up in this team. Whitewash in all forms vs RSA then eng at home before this terrible administration has nowhere to hide an then perhaps we can move forward.

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