Brendon McCullum is the dashing wicket keeper batsman of the New Zealand team. An attractive and aggressive stroke player that he is, Brendon had set the inaugural Indian Premier League on fire with a mind boggling 158 not out in the opening T20 match for the Kolkata Knight Riders. This sensational wicket keeper batsman had arrived in the international circuit as a a 23-year-old and since then has reserved his place in the New Zealand team in all forms of the game. Brendon’s younger brother Nathan McCullum also has the distinction of playing international cricket while his dad Stuart McCullum played first class cricket for Otago. Here Brendon McCullum talks about his keeping, batting and other topics:
So what sort of goals have you got in mind?
Brendon McCullum: They are run-scoring goals and scoring hundreds and things like that. I try to keep them in-house. But I mean, I am not just interested in cricket goals, there are life goals too and they overlap especially when you look at what you want to achieve by the end of your career.
Tell us who you played for when you were younger and the people that made an impression on you leading up to your debut in 1st class cricket.
Brendon McCullum: Well, firstly my old man played 1st class cricket and my brother Nathan is playing New Zealand A team at the moment. And so we were always in and around Dad’s cricket – around the Otago scene. As just young kids, whacking a ball on the edge of the boundary while Otago was out in the middle. And we were always in the changing room and just chatting to the guys and being part of the whole scene. I think that always gave me the ambition for me and my brother as we came through the grades, playing age grade cricket for Otago and senior cricket and 1st XI cricket.
Was it always your goal as a youngster to play for New Zealand?
Brendon McCullum: Well you grow up playing cricket in the backyard where you are wanting to be Martin Crowe or Ian Smith or Richard Hadlee; this was just how it was in our family. So the dream is always there that you might play cricket for New Zealand but it didn’t really become a reality until probably about 17 when I went away to the Under 19 World Cup. I was keeping wickets and did okay there. And then the next year I got an opportunity to captain the Under 19 team and played against South Africa at home and had a really, really good test series against them.
And it was about then that I started thinking that, you know, maybe it is achievable and if I could do a bit more hard work maybe it won’t be too long before I get an opportunity. And as it happened, it wasn’t that long and although I didn’t do very well, it certainly sparked my interest, and the other thing it made me do is realise that it is not enough to just want to play for New Zealand, it is really about wanting to perform well for New Zealand and be a part of a team that creates history.
My first taste of international cricket, I had seven one-day games in Australia and for me I was just absolutely stoked that I was playing for New Zealand. I mean you wanted to do well but you did not really know if you were capable so there is a lot of uncertainty about what you are actually able to do at that level initially. And I got dropped pretty much straight after, and it was only then that I worked out that I had to re-evaluate what I was trying to do and re-evaluate where my game was and where it needed to be if I was going to be successful playing international cricket.
A number of players talk about the first time they get dropped and the positive affect it has on them.
Brendon McCullum: Yes. It is strange, and I think it is probably that you get a taste of being involved in the team and being involved in everything that goes along with it, and it is only when that is actually taken away from you – or you let it slip through your fingers that that’s when you realise that you need to make changes.
Did you think that you had let it slip a little?
Brendon McCullum: Yeah, I did but I was still very grateful for my opportunity because it showed me that I had a chance to learn where I was at an international level, which of course you just don’t get if you are not playing. The step from domestic to international is so great that you never really know. But what that gave me was a clear direction of the areas that I needed to improve on, and almost the pathway of how I was going to get back, and when I did get back, what I needed to do to be more successful. So, I never really felt like that was the last time I was ever going to play for New Zealand. It just showed me that I had a lot of work to do.
Can we talk a little about wicket keeping?
Brendon McCullum: Yeah, it’s going good. I ran into a bit of back problem in England last year which was pretty disappointing but I was still able to play as a batter which was nice. But, you know, now is a great opportunity for me to reach some pretty intense goals and I’ve got a chance to be the best wicket keeper/batsman in the world over the next couple of years. So there is probably about four of us that are competing for that at the moment, now that Gillie’s gone. So it is a real change to try and pin that down and secure it for a period of time.
I don’t want to pass that by. I think its – you know, if I can keep wicket keeping for the next few years in test cricket, then there is no reason why I can’t do that, if I can perform.
What do you think made Gilchrist the best?
Brendon McCullum: I think his ability to come out and play in the manner in which he did. His confidence to be able to do that in any given situation, and he would come out and play his same style of play. And that was unique because it had never been done before. I think it is a lot easier for us now to try and play like that because he has almost set the path. But it was just staggering how he changed the face of wicket keeping internationally. Because of Gillie now, every team is looking for a wicket keeper that is capable of being destructive with the bat, in both test and one day cricket.
So he really did change the face of what a wicket keeping role is to a team. And you know, if any wicket keeper can do quarter of the job that he did or achieve a quarter of the results that he’s achieved, I think you’d be pretty happy with your career.
Did you choose to be wicket keeper when you were young? How did that come about?
Brendon McCullum: Yes. I chose to be keeper, I think because I was pretty greedy, I just wanted to be in the game. I loved being in the game, I loved being in the action and that’s what wicket keeping presented.
What age was that?
Brendon McCullum: I think I played my first game at five, I dabbled with bowling, just wasn’t any good at it.
And what so far has been your favourite ground?
Brendon McCullum: Lords without a doubt and I have had a couple of good results there. The first ninety was four years ago and then the last one was obviously this year. It was quite weird to have had four years to think about how I was going to score 100 at Lords after getting so close previously. And then this time round I came in, and it was a situation where we were in a lot of trouble and I managed to play my own way, playing the way that gives me that enjoyment and we managed to get ourselves out of some trouble. At some point I found I was on 97 and then started thinking about the possibility of what I had been hoping for, for four years previously, and then just missed a straight one and found myself walking back – 97. But I am still very proud of it. I mean, firstly to get the opportunity to play at Lords and then secondly to be out there and actually performing and being able to entertain a Lords crowd with what you’re capable of is what makes that place so special.
There’s something about the tradition there. I am not a great historian – I mean I am not sentimental either at all – that side of the game doesn’t affect me. You’ll never see my house covered in past mementos or anything, but in terms of the history you feel at a game at Lords, it just captures you – everything about it. Just the changing rooms – the walk down through the long room, the walk onto the field with the slope and the Lords crowd and the buzz that it brings, the members area, all the blazers and hats and ties that the members are wearing and even the Lords lunches. It is a pretty incredible place.
And what about the best player you’ve seen?
Brendon McCullum: Well Gilchrist is up there for what he has done and how his confidence allows him to play. I thinking Ponting for his ability to just churn out runs, and in big games he almost always delivers. But I think the guy with probably the most talent that I’ve ever played against would be Brian Lara, he didn’t even get very many runs against us but he just had this amazing ability to hit the ball wherever he wanted. And also just the awe he created – there was an aura around him when he came out. It was pretty impressive to see someone capable of that –just the way that the ground stopped when he walked out, and when he left – every time I saw him he was in control. So they’re probably my three, I would say.
Tell me a little bit about your training?
Brendon McCullum: Well first of all I think it is so important to have time away from cricket. We took a month off this year after England. It allows you to really take stock of where you are at rather than just constantly having your head in the battle. I mean you never really look at the long term picture when you’re right in the thick of things and time out – it allows you to dream again. And I think it allows you to really set yourself those lofty goals and work out ways you are going to achieve them and that’s – that’s what I have tried to do over the break – knowing that we’ve got a big two years coming up, and its going to take some real physical strength, but also real mental strength to be able to be successful throughout those two years. I just really enjoyed getting away from the game and taking stock and enjoying the things outside of cricket. And that has allowed me to really come back and just be hungry again to have success.
Along with your Mike and your Dad who else have been the key people for you?
Brendon McCullum: Steve Rixon was amazing as well. When I did get dropped from that New Zealand team I had never met Steve before. He was over coaching New South Wales at the time, after he had coached New Zealand previously, and I managed to get a meeting arranged with him. We sat down and from that point on we spent the next nine months, I ended up living over there, just training together with him coaching me and also including me in their New South Wales trainings. So he was amazing and I still speak to him now when I am away on tour, every now and then, if something is going on. Whether it is wicket keeping, which is obviously his specialty, or in general because I find his attitude just incredible.
The thing is I find sometimes you can get a little bit wrapped up in the negative stuff of cricket and often it is difficult to work through. I give Steve a call and he just tells me to pretty much forget everything that I’ve just said and start focusing on what I’m good at again, and keep reminding yourself that you’re a good player, and just all that real good confidence-building stuff – he just keeps things really, really sharp but simple.
And the other one is Billy Ibadulla from down in Dunedin. He really helped me with my batting when I was real young, he had a couple of sessions with me but also when I first started playing for New Zealand he really helped me try and make that step from just being in the New Zealand team to actually being able to score runs and make a career.
Who is the best bowler you’ve played against?
Brendon McCullum: If you look in the international circuit there’s Ajantha Mendis from Sri Lanka who seems to be taking the world by storm with his bowling, he is pretty unique in the way he bowls and for me as a fellow spinner it is these guys that I’d look out for and try to learn one or two new things from. He’s going to be one of those guys like Muralitharan who can revolutionize the game and will have people say “I want to bowl like that”. You don’t get many guys in world cricket like that. You think of Warne, Richard Hadlee and Muralitharan and when kids say that they want to start copying you know you’ve made an impact.
But I think Warne is always the best – it’s almost an idol thing for me as well. Always loved watching him bowl and loved the way he played the game. Also Muralitharan and whilst there’s controversy with his action, his ability to do what he does is pretty amazing. Those two guys, and it’s the spin thing for me as well, but it’s hard to go past the two most successful bowlers in the history of the game.
What is it about Warne and how he played the game that you enjoyed?
Brendon McCullum: I think it’s an amazing effort for a spin bowler to come into the game with that attitude and then show that spin can dominate so much – with a physical presence as well as the skill. It’s not just the normal spinner who shies away and bowls a few overs before the new ball or a couple before lunch; he was the main man and it hasn’t happened a lot in cricket where a spin bowler is the focal point of attention. I think that’s what initially drew my attention; you just sit back and admire the skill. There are a lot of balls that he’s bowling that he’s thought up by himself. He’s actually making them happen, making them the most effective weapons in cricket at the time.
Do you think opposition can feel that pressure? It seemed just Warne doing his warm-ups made batsmen play differently. Were batsman ever scared or genuinely didn’t know what to do?
Brendon McCullum: Yeah, I think so. I think that “scared” is probably not quite the right word because the fear factor of being hurt is not there. With a spin bowler it is a mental and a skilful challenge, whereas you flip that over to Brett Lee and you realise that if you miss it it’s going to hurt like hell. With fast bowling it is about managing your thoughts around worst-case scenarios. But that can bring out the best in people. It actually refines their thinking and their thoughts about how not to get hit that can tend to make their technique work a little bit better. Fear in cricket is very important. I would be surprised if there is anyone who wasn’t nervous when they went out to bat and in their bowling. Fear is always around in a cricket game. It is just those guys who tend to manage it or who tend to utilise it for their benefit that succeed. Someone like Mark Richardson, after reading his book, he said it drove him to be the player he was, how scared he was of the ball and how scared he was of failing.