Any sport needs characters who appear larger than life.
It is the 28th over of the day, Mitchell Marsh’s second after the lunch. In his previous over he had produced a gem of an outswinger to snare the indissoluble Kane Williamson.
Off the second ball, McCullum cuts hard to point to bring the new man, Corey Anderson on strike. The first couple of balls wiz past Anderson’s bat. He is not beaten but you sense the nerves.
As he adjusts his gloves, McCullum wanders down the pitch from the non-striker’s end and pretends to do some gardening, chews on his gum, makes eye contact with Anderson and then simply nods his head.
Next ball Anderson is not too dissimilar, just the line is on off-stump but Anderson flexes his muscles, closes his eyes at impact and pulls it over square leg for six.
It sums up the day and the dynasty of McCullum. When he speaks the team listens. It is by no means forced but since taking over the captaincy McCullum has created that respect. Win at any cost is the mantra and do it in a manner that suits the team.
When McCullum took over the captaincy role, he realised wearing down the bowlers and trying to take the Tests deep into fifth day was not their strength. Stroke makers such as himself, Martin Guptill, Corey Anderson and even Ross Taylor at times played at their best with the philosophy of ‘live and die by the sword’.
If anyone was to be surprised at New Zealand’s tactics, then it was worth listening to McCullum’s comments at the toss again. He is man faithful to his team and his words.
“You will see some positive batting on this type of wicket” he told Simon Doull. First couple of hours it might have seemed like a lie but then again McCullum knows which players can attack and which players can defend.
The way Anderson attacks showcased his true leadership and his man-management skills. There was luck but this was the only way McCullum felt his teams could survive.
He had learnt it hard way. Either from last week in Wellington or his first Test as skipper when New Zealand were bowled out for 43 after electing to bat first against South Africa. It was embarrassing but the way McCullum conveyed the message to his team after that Test spoke volumes about the art of his captaincy.
He never disused the Test or the techniques, instead he spoke about the All Blacks. He told the men about the respect and the pride they had created for a country of boasting a population of only four million.
He told his team mates that he wanted the Black Caps to command similar respect from his countrymen. He told them about being noticed on the world sporting scene just like the All Blacks.
Importantly, he told them to do get to that level with enjoyment and respect. Six of those players that heard those words from McCullum ran out with him in his final Test. The others had been relayed that message either my McCullum, coach Mike Hesson or team manager, Mark Sandle.
Enjoyment and respect are two words that would define New Zealand cricket. Last year when Ben Stokes and Alastair Cook took the first Test away from New Zealand at Lord’s, McCullum looked at his teammates and reminded them that they were playing a Test at Lord’s. It was every boy’s childhood dream and it was paramount to enjoy it.
New Zealand might have lost the Test but the simplicity in the message ensured the positive mindset and it lead to New Zealand winning the second Test.
The second word ‘respect’ was not only on the field but off it. Recently a member of support staff had stood by the door and blocked one of the bowlers passage as he tried to run out to start his bowling drills in between innings.
The bowler in a polite way had just gently tapped the support staff and said ‘out of the way mate’ with a smile on his face. In McCullum’s eyes this was not respecting your teammates, so he stopped the player and reminded him of the two fundamentals of his captaincy. “Sorry Mate, had to run to do the warm ups” was the quick reply from the bowler to the support staff.
It was a further indication of when McCullum spoke the team listened. Today McCullum simply nodded at Anderson, and the rest was history.