New Zealand’s upcoming tour of South Africa has been dominated by off-field controversies, and while skipper Brendon McCullum hopes the new players will step up, he admits his team is up against it with a whole bunch of rookies in the side. By ANT SIMS.
Cricket is a funny game. As if there weren’t enough subplots and intricacies on the field, more often than not the game is laced with off-field controversy and complexities that could make South Africa’s politicians blush.
New Zealand’s upcoming tour of South Africa is no different. Amidst the Ross Taylor saga, where Taylor refused a split-captaincy offer, there was a whole bunch of he-said, she-said going on – which eventually resulted in Taylor withdrawing from the squad. Despite those in power issuing apologies, the Black Caps are still packed with a bunch of rookies who are expected to step up and make a name for themselves against the Proteas when their tour kicks off with a three-match T20 series on 21 December in Durban.
Taylor is expected to return to the side at some point, but when exactly that will be, nobody really knows. Brendon McCullum, who has been tasked with leading the side in all three formats, admits that there have been some distractions and that the lack of senior players is unfortunate.
“We can’t control what has unfolded back home and, as players, our focus is very much on the cricket field and what we can control there,” McCullum told a news conference.
“What has happened behind the scenes over the last little while is, from a team perspective, now over, and our focus is now moving forward.”
“There [have] obviously been some distractions…back home, but we know there is a monumental task in front of us. To take it on without some of our better players is disappointing, but that’s what we’ve got to do. A New Zealand team with Ross Taylor involved is a lot stronger,” the skipper said.
New Zealand had a poor run in the recent ICC World T20, managing just one win in the tournament – against Bangladesh. They tied two of their matches, which had to be decided by the one-over eliminator, and then they lost both of those, too. Of course, that team was packed with experience, and McCullum now has to make do with a young squad which contains five uncapped players. The skipper is looking on the bright side – he hopes the baptism by fire will help shape the youngsters.
“We’ve got a number of big losses throughout our team at the moment, but it is one thing to long for those guys to be present. It’s another to get on with dealing with the resources you’ve got,” McCullum said.
“We’re going to find out a lot about the new guys in the next little while, and they are going to be exposed to some pretty extreme circumstances. So for the development of the squad and for those guys, it’s a really exciting time. From a leadership point of view, we’ve got to find a way to use the resources we do have, rather than focus on what we don’t have,” he added.
South Africa has followed a similar approach. While there is a bunch of veterans in the side, the Proteas have a new head coach for the T20 side in Russell Domingo, and a group of new faces who are yet to get a taste of international cricket. McCullum knows that, despite some inexperience, South Africa will be relentless.
“We know South Africa is going to be uncompromising, very fit, strong and disciplined. We know they are an extremely well-skilled team,” McCullum said.
“South Africa has got a form advantage over us, but we’re excited about the opportunity to play them. If we put them under pressure and get some of their inexperienced guys to have to deal with that pressure, then maybe we will able to learn a bit about ourselves and hopefully come out on top.”
The two sides have played each other eight times in T20 matches, and New Zealand has only managed two wins. Going into the series, the Black Caps are underdogs by a large margin and McCullum, clutching at straws while looking for the positives, said that he knew his charges usually performed well against the odds.
“I think historically we have performed better when we’ve gone in as underdogs and with our backs being against the wall. I think we want to try and continually improve our performances, not just in those situations, but also when we go into a series level pegging,” said the skipper.
They are miles away from level-pegging, but perhaps there is solace for McCullum and company in knowing that it won’t be a surprise if they cop an absolute thrashing.
Anything above that is a bonus. DM
Photo: New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum (L) plays a shot during the fourth day of second and final test cricket match against Sri Lanka in Colombo, November 28, 2012. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
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