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Martin Crowe - Pitch for bare truth

Indian spearhead is dominating his skipper the way he did Dravid in IPL, writes Crowe

Saturday, February 28, 2022
Dhoni should be wary of Zaheer

It was a smart innings by Brendon McCullum who was cool under pressure. He has shown that he can rise to the occasion each time New Zealand wants him to.

This is the brand new McCullum we are seeing who is now mature and as vice-captain of the side he is ready to make the most of the opportunities presented to him by such tough situations.

For the viewers in India, this is a new facet of McCullum that is being shown to them and this is a far cry from his smash-hit debut in the IPL’s first game last year.

As part of the Bangalore Royal Challengers, I was witness at first hand to his prowess. But that innings in many ways was not a great thing for him, because it told him that he could do such things on a regular basis.

That is just not possible in cricket and the McCullum 150 in the IPL opener was a freakish innings which you can never ever replicate again.

He has not done much since that IPL knock until the last couple of weeks. It has taken him a year to get it out of the system. It is good that he realised that the only way to build an innings is to have some structure, play intelligently and smartly. You need to work the ball around and respect the conditions.

The other important thing is for you to pick the moment to play the big shots, which he did today. There was a moment when you got the feeling that the Black Caps may fall short, especially when Irfan Pathan picked up those two wickets off two balls.

The pressure was increasing all the time towards the end, partly due to the quality of the Indian bowling which you can expect from Dhoni’s team.

This New Zealand haven’t won for a while in a general sense and to win a series that too when the pressure was on is a commendable achievement.

And it was McCullum who cleared the mist even when faced with the situation of scoring 9 runs off 3 balls. He hit two boundaries which was the outstanding moment for the team and for McCullum himself.

It is certainly a step forward for Vettori’s team which was a good thing and it was all down to McCullum.

The New Zealand wicket-keeper will be a better player for the last two T20 games. Here in New Zealand, McCullum is known as a good finisher and he played the one-day game in the first-half of his career at No 6. Almost always he finished in a good fashion.

There is a big debate here on whether McCullum should open the batting in the 50-over game with so many overs to play or should he go back to No 6 or No 7. That will be the big question mark over the next five games.

McCullum is the best No 6 in the 50-over game. It is down to the vice-captain on what he wants to do, whether he wants to continue to open.

If he decides to drop down there is the option of Martin Guptill opening, then Ross Taylor could move to the No 3 spot. Grant Elliott and Neil Broom could move up further. This way the senior pros like Jacob Oram, McCullum and Daniel Vettori can control the end overs.

But Vettori and McCullum believe that the wicket-keeper should open because he can score hundreds. A one-day opener should ideally be scoring hundreds. And in this case McCullum has no hundred, except one against Ireland.

Maybe the Black Caps will see what McCullum does in the first couple of one-dayers and then decide that he might be better off at No 5 or 6.

My personal gut feeling is that he should be at No 6 in the one-day game because it is similar to opening in a T20.
Impressed as I was with McCullum, Indians disappointed with the way they batted. The wicket was not as good as we previewed, certainly not as good as Christchurch. They were again lacking composure, Yuvraj played better and Dhoni paced it well. I feel it was a 160-minimum wicket.

You can clearly see that the Indians have not settled. It is a far cry from playing in Colombo. Here it is much colder, the elements are more difficult and the wickets are inconsistent.

They play at rugby grounds which do not provide a true cricket environment. So they are naturally adjusting as they go.

But India’s main strength lies in the 50-over game if not the Test matches.

One thing I noticed with the Indian team as I did with the Royal Challengers last year is that Zaheer Khan has quite a lot to say on the field. Dhoni needs to be very careful with players like Zaheer who is getting too vocal and animated, otherwise it will start compromising with his own leadership.

Zaheer became very dominating over Rahul last year through the IPL. It is not a crisis point, but a gentle reminder is needed that Zaheer is there to bowl and Dhoni to captain.

It is only with regards to general gameplan and field placements at any given moment that I am raising this point.

In the end the game like the one on Friday night and the series like we have had is just the right tonic with India featuring as the No 1 marquee team.

It will hopefully turn the attention away from the rugby season which is prematurely staged in the middle of our summer and is part of an ongoing debate.

Cricket rightfully is at the focal point with the next five one-dayers and hopefully the momentum carries through to the Tests in March and early April.