All the attention has been on Ross Taylor losing the Black
Caps captaincy - but what about the man who has inherited the
job? Michael Brown, of APNZ, explores the background of
Otago's Brendon McCullum.
In a cold, dark villa typical of many in South Dunedin, a
young Brendon McCullum picks up his phone.
He shuffles into the kitchen to find some privacy and his
voice lowers. It's Sir Richard Hadlee and he's not happy.
McCullum has just been picked for the New Zealand cricket
team as a 20-year-old and Hadlee has discovered his new
wicketkeeper-batsman was at training with the Southern rugby
side the previous evening.
It was not, Hadlee implored, acceptable and was not to happen
again or he would be overlooked for a New Zealand cricket
''Yeah, he was a bit grumpy,'' McCullum told the Otago Daily
Times at the time, ''but I managed to calm him down a bit''.
McCullum could well have donned a black jersey as opposed to
a black cap and was a freakishly talented sportsman during
his days at King's High School.
In his sixth form year he was selected ahead of Dan Carter as
first five-eighth for the South Island secondary schools
side. On another occasion, he played for the school's First
XI football side at 1pm in an interschool against archrival
Otago Boys' High School and then led the First XV at 3pm to
its first win away from home in 24 years. McCullum, of
course, scored a brilliant solo try.
Last week, he was named the 28th captain of the New Zealand
cricket side. It didn't come about in the way he might have
hoped, as coach Mike Hesson ousted Ross Taylor, and McCullum
considered all options when asked to take over in all three
formats. He decided to accept ''for the good of the team''.
Those who know him well say he will do a good job and he will
be ''aggressive'' and ''instinctive''. Others are less
convinced, believing his personality is not suited to being
New Zealand captain.
There are few more divisive figures in New Zealand cricket.
He's often perceived as brash, perhaps even cocky, and his
outward appearances might contribute to that.
McCullum has Roman numerals stencilled on his right shoulder
and biceps that reference, among other things, his playing
number (42) and the birthdates of his children.
It's a public display of the importance of family and one of
the strong themes that emerge when talking to people who know
He comes from one of the most prominent sporting families in
Dunedin. Father Stu played first-class cricket for Otago,
uncle Grant was a wicketkeeper who found his way to the Otago
side blocked by Warren Lees, and brother Nathan is a
team-mate at both domestic and national level.
The young McCullum was a dressing-room rat; a kid who spent
time in the dressing room at Culling Park as his father
played club cricket for Albion. Brendon and Nathan were
omnipresent and even played as substitute fielders for
Albion's premier team when 8 and 9 respectively when several
players were sitting university exams. Their arms, according
to former Albion president Warwick Larkins, were better even
then than most senior members of the side.
His son, Riley, is said to have also taken on those traits as
he immerses himself in his father's world.
''He's great with kids,'' former Otago and New Zealand
team-mate Craig Cumming says.
''My kids have had a little to do with Brendon and they don't
look at Brendon as McCullum the superstar or cricketer. They
actually look at him as a friend who plays cricket for New
Zealand and they do that because of the way he treats them.
It's a nice trait, a special trait. These are the things
people don't see and don't understand. Off the park he is a
very generous, courteous and honest bloke.''
It's a view shared by his King's High School 1st XI coach,
John Cushen, who played for Otago in the 1980s. McCullum has
often made time to talk to Cushen, even after a test win,
when teams traditionally celebrate among themselves.
''That's not an arrogant, stuck up, hip-hopper,'' Cushen
''I have just found him to be respectful and respectful of
the people I'm around. He's not cocky or arrogant.''
McCullum even followed Cushen's orders when, as a fourth
former, he was instructed not to chase 18 runs off the last
over in an inter-school against Southland Boys' High, when
King's were nine down.
''In those days you never lost and I sent out instructions
that we were not going for the win,'' Cushen says.
''He said, 'I can do this'. I told him again, 'we're not
going for this'. He didn't go for it ... but he probably
wasn't overly happy about it.''
King's played an important role in McCullum's life - although
his teachers say he went to play sport rather than learn -
and still does. The McCullum brothers set up a cricket
academy at the school and in 2002 Brendon returned to his
alma mater to present the school with his first New Zealand
It was something he felt inspired to do after seeing, as a
student, Carl Hayman do the same thing when he made the All
McCullum's first taste of international cricket was far from
appetising. After devouring provincial and age-group bowlers
- he played at a junior world cup and made his first-class
debut for Otago while still at high school - he struggled at
the highest level and confronted criticism for the first time
in his career.
He posted single-figure scores in 14 of his first 20 one-day
international innings and it gave critics who questioned his
selection at such a young age, of which there were many,
plenty of fodder. The selectors perservered and McCullum
never doubted he would succeed.
''He was very much full of confidence but, when he was
younger, it was probably too much confidence,'' Cumming says.
''Over time he's certainly grown up.
''I just love his confidence. The world was there to be taken
and that was the way he saw it. He saw every day as an
opportunity to do something special. It was an outlook a few
of us playing the game probably wished we had, too. It wasn't
always successful and has brought about his downfall, and
still does every now and then. Cricket is an awful game
because you fail so regularly compared to your successes.
Even the greats do it. To have that attitude is fantastic.''
Notably, he didn't drop his bundle when he missed out last
year on the captaincy to Taylor in another messy public
process. He wasn't happy but he didn't undermine Taylor and
stepped up to lead the side last summer when Taylor was
absent against both Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Away from the cricket pitch, McCullum follows horse racing
and enjoys a quiet beer with friends. He hasn't led a totally
clean lifestyle in an era when players are often expected to
be pillars of purity but he doesn't live to excesses.
It's said McCullum would always smoke a team fitness test
regardless of what the previous evening entailed, which
caused some alarm among team management. McCullum is a
naturally gifted athlete and cricket staff worried that
younger and more impressionable team-mates might think they,
too, could follow his methods.
Former New Zealand batsman Craig McMillan is now close
friends with McCullum and the pair's children also play
cricket together in Christchurch. McMillan said they have
some fairly ''heated discussions'' about the state of New
Zealand cricket and the team and it's an abrasive
relationship that stretches back to the first time they met.
It was when McCullum was about 19 and starting to make waves.
Both McCullum and McMillan shared the same sponsor and
McCullum broke a bat. The sponsor wanted McMillan, who was
playing a first-class game at the Lincoln Oval, to give
McCullum one of his.
''He came in to look at my bat and proceeded to tell me all
that was good and bad about it,'' McMillan says.
''Straight away there was that brash 19-year-old. It made me
laugh. It made me think, 'who is this kid?' ''I remember the
first net session we had when he made the New Zealand team. A
few of us thought we would try to test him out. We had heard
a bit about him so proceeded to bowl short and give him a
real workout. He took everything on. Everything we could dish
out, he took on the chin. Straight away I thought, 'there's
something about this kid and he's going to be a pretty good
As a player, he probably hasn't yet achieved as much as his
talent suggested, but there is a sense of hope he will also
become a pretty good captain.''