“Oooh, if McCullum was captaining he’d have six slips in here.”
“What this game needs is someone to come in like and really take it by the scruff of the neck, like Brendon McCullum does.”
“Would like to see how a captain like McCullum would have reacted to that incident.”
For the past six months we’ve been subjected to a near endless stream of anecdotes and praise surrounding the figure of Saint Brendon McCullum, best Test captain in the world and Limited Overs revolutionary. And frankly, we’re sick of it. Note, this doesn’t mean that we think McCullum is a bad captain, when clearly he isn’t, or that he is a crap batsman, as he’s not that either. But the hyperbole and myth making which now surrounds him is getting out of hand, to the point that it’s all beginning to look rather silly.
The obvious retort to the near universal praise McCullum receives (at least in the British press), is to ask what he has actually accomplished. The Kiwis are currently 6th in the ICC Test rankings, 4th in the ODI rankings, and 7th in the T20. On the individual player lists, the only top ten he is currently a member of is the T20 batsmen, where he is 6th. He is the 15th best Test batsman, and sits at 30th in ODI cricket. Obviously some of these are a little unfair, in particular New Zealand’s position on the Test rankings, but neither do they suggest either a captain or a player who has turned world cricket on its head.
By the same stretch you could look at what the Kiwis have won under McCullum’s captaincy. And, er, it’s not much. Drawn series against England home and away, a drawn series in the UAE, a drawn series in Bangladesh, a one-nil series win at home against India, and an easy home series win over Sri Lanka. There have been a lot of drawn series, and very little success away from home, aside from beating the West Indies, which barely counts these days. Of course, this is mitigated by just how rubbish the Kiwis had been in 2012/3 when they were annihilated in South Africa, and the sheer lack of Test cricket played since then must make it hard to build any momentum. Plus in the intervening period McCullum became the first Kiwi to score a triple century.
But neither does it argue for a captain who has managed to revolutionise Test cricket. At least not to the extent that most commentators would have you believe. McCullum is extremely aggressive and not afraid to try new things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s surely the case that the sheer lack of expectation that surrounds New Zealand must help in this approach and McCullum is almost always exonerated when things do go wrong, like at Lord’s earlier this year.
Then there is the ODI World Cup, where the Kiwis brilliantly managed to peak right at the perfect moment and ride a wave of home support deeper into the tournament than they’d ever been before. At which point they got smashed. That results have subsequently fallen away so badly suggests it really was a one-off accomplishment, when everything came together at the right time. Which is exactly how it should be, and a far better approach than to, say, peak six months after a World Cup. But, again, it was a short-lived period of success, and one which failed to deliver any actual ultimate success.
But whilst we could argue at length whether or not McCullum’s achievements in the game are worthy of the praise he now receives, that isn’t really the point. He is praised by the English media especially because they have chosen him as their shining example of how they believe cricket should played. McCullum is now the patron saint of the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ movement, and the media has decided to mythologise McCullum the character, as opposed to McCullum the cricketer.
There are two reasons why we think this is worth noting, other than the fact it gives us an opportunity to take pot shots at a Kiwi. The first is that the deification of McCullum as the embodiment of the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ first and foremost actually diminishes from what the Kiwis have been able to achieve on the field. Turning New Zealand cricket around has been a monumental effort, and surely not the result of McCullum’s efforts alone. We wonder to what extent he realises how his character is being used to support the arguments of commentators who couldn’t care less how well New Zealand actually perform on the field, they just want to use them to make a point off it.
The second is that it looks like this is all beginning to go to his head somewhat. When the Kiwis decided to drop the sledging after that South African tour, it was presumably because they believed they’d play better without it, not because they felt the need to become ambassadors for the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ and butter up the press ranks. But now McCullum is frequently giving his opinion on matters that don’t really have anything to do with him. In the past few months he has taken a cheap shot at Warner for not applauding Root’s century at Cardiff – Warner claims he did, the cameras just didn’t catch it – and claimed Stephen Peter Devereux Smith will regret not calling Ben Stokes back, which is, at best, a moot point.
This mythologising doesn’t suit someone like McCullum, and frankly looks ridiculous when you compare it with the amount of praise – or more properly the lack of – players like Younis Khan or Misbah-ul-Haq receive. This sudden eulogising of a player most were happy enough to largely ignore previously, and wasn’t even well regarded by Kiwi fans till a few years ago, strikes us as being a bit, well, fake. A bit like how everyone began to switch off when Warne started banging on about how a great a captain his mate Clarkey is, people might naturally start becoming skeptical about whether or not McCullum being a ‘top bloke’ is actually all that important. And we would assume that many, if not most, Kiwi fans would prefer to have a captain who, whilst somewhat less accomplished at walking on water, could actually bring home some trophies when it matters.