The voice booming through the stump mike was
"You bewdy" it exclaimed when wickets began to fall steadily
as New Zealand edged towards a first series win of any
description in South Africa during the second one-day
international at Kimberley.
The phantom larynx belonged to the player nearest the
microphone, New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum. His
enthusiasm was justified and appeared to permeate his
team-mates. Five run outs, anyone? Ever the gambler, McCullum
needed something to go his way in South Africa in the wake of
New Zealand cricket's low ebb. It did.
It is too early to offer a verdict on McCullum's captaincy
tenure in the wake of the Ross Taylor saga but a one-day
series win has started to stem the vitriol from test
capitulations in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Let's be clear, McCullum has work to do. He is a player
originally overlooked for the role in favour of Taylor; a
player who can be equal parts risk and revelation with his
willingness to weaken the grip of caution; he is also a
player with a captaincy record clamouring for credibility.
McCullum has lost two tests in charge, won five and lost five
ODIs and won six and lost nine Twenty20s.
The stigma of leading the Kolkata Knight Riders to last in
the 2009 Indian Premier League with coach John Buchanan also
However, the word from the dressing room is that he has
galvanised some of the younger players. Mitchell McClenaghan
(four wickets for 20 on debut at Paarl) and Kane Williamson
(145 not out off 136 balls at Kimberley) were examples.
NZC director of cricket Buchanan says McCullum appears to
have made progress in the past fortnight.
"One of the things Brendon instils in players is a potential
to believe in themselves. He bounces back quickly from
disappointment. I think his communication skills are still a
big strength. We [New Zealand] need leaders capable of
maintaining confidence in themselves and those around them
with just 50 overs to work with.
"A lot of credit has to go to the captain, especially in the
second match, when they defended a gettable total  in
the field, especially with the score at 167 for one in the
"They turned things around through solid bowling and
excellent fielding . There was a visible camaraderie. At
times, you can choose to be more defensive in 50-over matches
but Brendon's tendency is to give himself every chance of
taking wickets. He even leaves a slip in wherever possible.
"That's part of the reason I installed Brendon as captain at
Kolkata. He likes to lead by example. I know we faced
adversity back then [losing 10 of 14] but he tried everything
he could to win those games and it affected his own game."
Ken Rutherford led New Zealand to South Africa in 1994-95
when they lost the test series 2-1 on what became known as
the 'sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll' tour. He also witnessed
the strength of the South African system first-hand when he
returned to play for Gauteng from 1995 to 2000. He captained
them to the provincial four-day championship in his final
season. Rutherford says New Zealand's one-day series win is
"It is an intimidating environment and these last few results
have finally earned us some respect. A lot of my friends over
here [Rutherford works at the South African betting agency
Phumelela] have been very quiet in the last couple of days
after being quite vocal through the test series. McCullum and
the coaching team deserve some kudos.
"I think Brendon's done well. He seems a natural guy for the
captaincy, he's made some astute field placements and bowling
changes purely because he can see how the game is unfolding
with a bird's eye view behind the stumps.
"He's also been selfless with his own batting position,
sending Grant Elliott in to score runs  at No 4 in the
second match. I got the feeling they're forming a reasonable
nucleus of a [ODI] side. For example, I'd argue Williamson's
century is one of the greatest New Zealand 50-over innings of
"A lot has been made of South Africa playing a lesser team
without the likes of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, AB de
Villiers and Dale Steyn in each match but New Zealand has
fielded a weaker team too, without Ross Taylor, Tim Southee
or Jesse Ryder."
Former New Zealand coach David Trist spent time in South
Africa during the 1980s, coaching what was then known as
Eastern Province to the Currie Cup title. He says McCullum
has made the most of a daunting situation.
"Not only were they playing in the challenging cricketing
environment of South Africa but New Zealand teams have
created a litany of divisions over the years, often caused by
outside influences and they can have a negative influence on
how we play the game.
"Brendon has been able to put those dramas to one side, most
of which were not of his own making, and harness some solid
"I think he has the type of personality which could assist
and link a young team together. A number of players seemed to
support him and improved their self-esteem in the process."
- Andrew Alderson