Cricket: McCullum revels in opening role

New Zealand batsman Corey Anderson (right) celebrates his 50 runs alongside teammate Luke Ronchi...
New Zealand batsman Corey Anderson (right) celebrates his 50 runs alongside teammate Luke Ronchi during their Cricket World Cup match against Sri Lanka in Christchurch. Photo by Reuters
On a tide of national goodwill, Brendon McCullum delivered the catalyst for New Zealand's victory against Sri Lanka at Hagley Park on Saturday.

McCullum's recent decision to return to open the order with free licence rather than cramp himself like a padded jack in the box at No 5 was never better exemplified. His 65 from 49 balls was a local anesthetic to public nerves.

He stymied the principal threat posed by the return of Sri Lankan pace bowler Lasith Malinga. The right armer conceded 84 runs from 10 overs without taking a wicket, despite his best efforts to sling his trademark yorkers. They were his fourth most expensive figures in 172 ODI innings.

The New Zealand captain took 28 runs off 11 Malinga deliveries. He also hit the maiden six of the tournament over long on. McCullum delivered the modern day World Cup equivalent of Mark Greatbatch knocking Allan Donald, Curtly Ambrose and Kapil Dev off their pace bowling axis in 1992.

Back then, New Zealand morphed from easy beats to contenders in four weeks. This time it's different, given how consistently New Zealand has played in its last three victorious ODI series.

McCullum took the first step in filling a gap in his 13 year cricketing CV by making a World Cup half century against a test playing nation.

His strike rate of 133 also eased the tension for the five World Cup debutants in his playing XI - Corey Anderson (75 from 46), Grant Elliott (29 from 34), Luke Ronchi (29 off 19), Trent Boult (two for 64) and Adam Milne (two for 56) all made significant contributions as a result.

Before McCullum righted his record on Saturday, he had endured a batting blip at World Cups against top eight teams.

His 2003 11 record of 414 runs at 31.84 in 18 innings was deceptive. He had scored 308 against nations ranked outside the top eight.

The other 106 came at just 10.60, with a best of 36 not out against the West Indies in 2003. Now he's got a clear position and purpose, especially with the likes of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor as world class safety nets at Nos 3 and 4.

The 111 run opening stand in 15.5 overs from McCullum and Martin Guptill also countered the alarming statistic that, among test playing nations before the Sri Lanka ODI series, New Zealand had the worst average ODI opening partnership of 22.35 in the previous two years.


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