Before his first innings as a T20I opener - a match-winning 43-ball 84 against India in Wellington last year - Tim Seifert searched for videos of Brendon McCullum on YouTube. After displaying shades of McCullum in that innings, Seifert said his hero reached out to him, congratulating him on that innings. This year, Seifert has had a chance to spend four months with McCullum, tuning up his keeping and batting skills in the CPL and the IPL.

After being part of the Trinbago Knight Riders juggernaut that enjoyed an unbeaten run to the CPL title under coach McCullum, Seifert had less than 24 hours to spend at home, during which he "dropped the knee" to his girlfriend Morgan Croasedale and won her approval.

Then, he dashed out to the UAE to link up with the other Knight Riders franchise, Kolkata, also coached by McCullum, as a replacement player. Seifert didn't get a game in the IPL; nevertheless it has been an incredible few months for him.

"I found out that KKR were interested in me to go to the IPL with about three days left in my New Zealand isolation," Seifert said during a virtual media conference. "Then, I got out [of managed isolation after CPL] on a Wednesday about midday, and the next day at 5 o'clock I was flying out to Dubai. It was about 20 hours at home. I dropped the knee to my girlfriend which was quite exciting, then it was straight on the plane to the IPL."

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Seifert continues to work with McCullum, who is acting as a guest coach for New Zealand's IPL contingent that is under Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) in Christchurch. Seifert even said that his relationship with McCullum has "grown as a mate thing".

"Before this [four months], we've had some real good conversations over the phone and the odd session here and there," Seifert said. "But to be able to have four months with him - it has been outstanding from not just his ways of how he played the game but for myself as well to ask him about my game. Also, it's a lot easier working with someone when they're there than over the phone. He has been doing a bit of shadow-keeping, he's been behind me and so he's getting the same views that I've been getting."

"At the same age, he's ahead of where I was as a batter at the same time."
McCullum on Seifert

As for McCullum, he delivered a glowing appraisal of Seifert, saying he had improved his game so much that he could push for a spot in other formats as well in the future. Seifert is New Zealand's first-choice T20I keeper, but has played just three ODIs so far, and is yet to make his Test debut.

"His game is very similar to mine. At the same age, he's ahead of where I was as a batter at the same time, and in a wicketkeeping point of view, he's really improved in a short space of time that he was with Trinidad in the CPL and Kolkata in the IPL," McCullum gushed. "He continues to impress and I think he's in for a breakout season for the Black Caps.

"Yes, I do [see Seifert as a long-term player]. He's a special talent," McCullum added. "To see how quickly someone can improve and develop skills and his attitude and how much he wants in this game is something to behold. If he gets the opportunity, and can take it early on, he can put some pressure on the incumbents in other forms of the game as well. But first and foremost, he's going to get the opportunity in T20s and I think he has had a little bit of success in international cricket and I think his best days are certainly in front of him."

Seifert's batting position has been a talking point in the recent past. As a big-hitter, he prefers batting at the top of the order and in the powerplay - his 40-ball hundred, a Super Smash record, came right at the top. However, with Martin Guptill and Colin Munro going strong as an opening pair, Seifert has opened in only five of the 29 T20Is he has played.

But with Munro now set to head across the Tasman Sea for a BBL stint with Perth Scorchers, Seifert could move back to the opening slot in the upcoming T20I series against West Indies.

"I haven't had those [batting position] discussions with Steady [coach Gary Stead] yet. But, for me personally, I do enjoy batting up at the top," Seifert said. "I think that's where I can probably execute my skills the best and try and get the team off to a good start. But, at the same time I've batted a lot in the middle order in the franchise cricket for TKR and obviously in my domestic and international career. To be honest, wherever I bat, I'm happy, but if I had to choose, I probably want to stay at the top."

Seifert could face some competition from Glenn Phillips, who is back in the New Zealand mix after being the top-scorer for Jamaica Tallawahs in CPL 2019 as well as CPL 2020. Earlier this year, there was a toss-up between Seifert and Phillips in the CPL knockouts and it could continue in New Zealand's home season.

"It's always good having those guys around, but I think I have to go out there and do my job and whatever I can do for the team," Seifert said. "Hopefully, that helps win every game and win the series. It's great as a team to have people there with you and help your game move forward and help each other. I think it's great for Glenn. He's back in the side, and he's got runs, and that's all that matters."

Seifert also reckoned that his stint with Kieron Pollard at TKR could help him provide clues for the New Zealand attack to counter the West Indies captain.

"Before going to the CPL, how to bowl to Polly, I wouldn't have known at all," Seifert said. "But, spending those couple of months with Polly in the CPL and him being captain…being able to sit down with him and actually talk about his career, I could easily go into the Black Caps environment and give my two cents on how we should bowl to Polly - rightly or wrongly. I think it gives you a great insight of these guys and how they actually do things because they do open up to you because you're in the same team and they want franchise teams to go well. It's a great opportunity to learn from those guys, but it is also nice to get told what they think."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo