New South Wales have secured a major coup with Brendon McCullum, the big-hitting New Zealand wicketkeeper, drafted in to the state's squad for the Australian domestic Twenty20 final in Sydney on Saturday. McCullum owns the most famous century in the format for his 158 off 73 balls in the opening match of the inaugural Indian Premier League and by playing for the Blues he will immediately qualify for the lucrative Champions League Twenty20 in October.
McCullum, who can also reach the tournament through his Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, will open the batting for New South Wales against Victoria at the Olympic Stadium. Australia rarely call on overseas talent to boost their squads, but David Gilbert, the Cricket New South Wales chief executive, said the move was an important one in preparation for the US$6 million tournament in India.
"With the potential losses the New South Wales squad may suffer depending on which two IPL teams qualify for the Champions League, it is vital that we strengthen our squad ahead of that tournament," Gilbert said. "Brendon is one of the most dangerous limited-overs batsmen in world cricket and will be a tremendous asset in terms of his considerable international experience and the match-winning ability he brings."
Nathan Bracken (Bangalore Royal Challengers), Brett Lee (Mohali), Simon Katich (Kings XI Punjab) and Dominic Thornely (Mumbai Indians) were New South Wales players who were part of the opening season of the IPL while Michael Clarke remains a target for the franchises. David Warner, the boom limited-overs opener, has signed with Delhi Daredevils for the second tournament and Moises Henriques has agreed to join McCullum's team.
The McCullum news is another blow for Victoria, who are likely to lose Brad Hodge with a leg injury sustained during their victory over Queensland in the preliminary final on Wednesday. The Bushrangers, who gained a place in the Champions League with the win, will also be without the big-name players David Hussey and Cameron White, who are on Australian one-day duty.
Queensland's Andrew Symonds said the signing was against the spirit of the game. "That's not Australian to me," Symonds said in the Courier-Mail. "Is that what New South Wales cricket is having to do? I am trying to understand the modern world."
Greg Shipperd, the Victoria coach, said the rules on overseas players "don't seem to be particularly clear". "Our view was not to play them domestically at this point in time but today's decision obviously might reopen that door," he told AAP. "These rules are emerging and they're flipping and flopping at different times so we'll just go with the flow and roll with the regulations as they are unfolded to us."
New Zealand Cricket officials cleared McCullum's move and he will miss Otago's last group game of the State Shield one-day competition. However, the squad members for the Chappell-Hadlee Series will not be available for the finals of that tournament. McCullum, who has played 143 ODIs and 18 Twenty20 Internationals, will be able to use the Sydney match to fine tune for the five one-dayers against Australia starting on February 1.