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Brendon McCullum, the champion & the nice guy - who said the two have to be mutually exclusive?

921   //    24 Feb 2016, 15:51 IST
Brendon McCullum
McCullum’s career ends with plenty of memories to cherish

Perhaps because of Australia’s continued success in the sport, many seem to be of the opinion that in order to succeed, you need to brash and abrasive. Some even go so far as to think that being nice is an inherent weakness that must be eradicated, as cricket is a competitive sport where niceness carries no weight.

Perhaps it is those same people who forget that despite all the brutality of the West Indian bowling line-up in the 1970s, the players were genuinely nice guys. Many batsmen of that era describe Sir Andy Roberts as arguably the most fearsome bowler to have ever played the game, but ask those who knew him personally and they would tell you that there were few nicer blokes than him.

So it was no surprise to see that the farewell of Brendon McCullum, one of modern cricket’s nicest blokes, was sullied a little by questions of whether he can even be called a great player, considering his numbers as a batsman show him as an average one at best. But those who question McCullum’s importance to the modern game completely miss the point of how integral he has been in converting a nation that is mad about all things rugby, into one that genuinely takes an interest in cricket – a sport that not every kid plays in the backyard.

From despair to delight – the story of McCullum’s captaincy

They say good things come to those who are patient. In McCullum’s case, it was because of New Zealand’s patience that they were able to uncover one of the finest captains of the modern era.

The world remembers all the good times and rightly so, but so no one should ever claim that McCullum didn’t have to tread turbulent waters to get to where he is right now. He leaves New Zealand cricket in a place where they have never been, as cricket’s most-loved neutral team.

While the world remembers the heights of the 2015 World Cup final, not everyone knows that the 34-year-old wasn’t always loved, or even liked. In fact, back in 2008, during his tenure as vice-captain, there were suggestions that the wicketkeeper wasn’t the ideal role model for the youngsters and that he was the ringleader who led to the sacking of then-coach Andy Moles. Those were among New Zealand’s darker days.

When he was given the captaincy in 2013, controversially instead of Ross Taylor, he got off to the worst possible start as his side were bundled out for 45 by a rampant South Africa in Cape Town, who went on to win the Test by an innings and 27 runs inside three days.

The world remembers all the good times and rightly so, but so no one should ever claim that McCullum didn’t have to tread turbulent waters to get to where he is right now. He leaves New Zealand cricket in a place where they have never been, as cricket’s most-loved neutral team.

Much of that has been down to McCullum and his insistence on focusing on the positives rather than looking forlorn while thinking about what might happen if our faults come to the fore. New Zealand’s attacking and positive cricket might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is one that they have executed expertly over the last couple of years.

A record of 13 successive unbeaten home Tests under the now retired skipper before the loss to Australia last week, a World Cup final – New Zealand’s first in their illustrious history – and plenty of other memorable moments are proof that the way the Black Caps play has served them well.

Even Stephen Fleming, a former Black Caps captain who is another nice guy, couldn’t elevate his team to the levels that Brendon has managed to. And that speaks volumes about his character and ability to inspire.

He might not have been the greatest batsman, but he leaves the game with a slew of records – some of which will be broken – and plenty of remarkable memories that will linger long after his footprints have disappeared from the game itself.

When asked about how he wanted to be remembered, McCullum responded in a way only he can, by stressing not on records or statistics but on emotion and the way he played his game.

"As a good team man, it would be nice to be remembered. As a guy who played for the right reasons and who, if in doubt, was prepared to take the positive option. Hopefully, the guys that I've played with will remember you as a good bloke as well,” he said.

Actions, not words, make a louder impact

Some people take his criticism of Steve Smith over the Ben Stokes obstructing the field dismissal as him poking his nose into places where his opinion isn’t required. But had those words come from anyone else’s mouth, they would have sounded hollow; because it was McCullum, they struck a chord.

Not least because he himself admitted that he is human and has made mistakes, but that there are things he would love to go back and do over.

“It’s probably too early in Steve Smith’s captaincy career to appreciate this but one day he’ll look back at the Ben Stokes dismissal at Lord’s on Saturday and realise he missed a great opportunity to strike a blow for the spirit of cricket,” McCullum wrote in his column. “We’ve all done things on the field that we regret later. I know I certainly have. But it was disappointing that Smith had a chance to make a statement about the way he wants his side to play the game and chose to go the other way.

“Don’t get me wrong: winning is important. But the longer you play this game the more you realise that some things are too valuable to spoil.”

That final line about the way the game should be played is the perfect embodiment of the nice guy that McCullum was. And it is not just words that McCullum uses to show how much of a gentleman he is. In fact, if he only did that, there would be even more outrage.

Playing the game in the right way

His handling of the affair that saw him become the first overseas player to represent New South Wales in the Big Bash final of 2008/09, raised his profile even further.

When he became the first foreign player since Imran Khan to play for New South Wales, not everyone was happy. Least of all Andrew Symonds, who labelled McCullum “a lump of shit” on Triple M radio.

Although he scored only 10, New South Wales won the final and Mccullum’s response to Symonds’ comments were straightforward. “I’m not worried what people have to say and I’m certainly not offended by it at all,” he said.

Recognising that he was brought in as a ringer, McCullum had no hesitation in donating his $6,000 match fee to the benefit of junior cricket in Otago. By doing that he further showcased that being nice always helps, even when you are in a situation that is nothing more than a storm in a teacup.

Brendon McCullum is not the first nice guy to play cricket, and hopefully, he will not be the last. But like Roger Federer and Rahul Dravid before him, McCullum deserves to be recognised as a gentleman who played the game in the way it should be.

While characters and emotive personalities are always an added bonus, being nice should always come first. After all, if the sport is to be played by youngsters and the next generation, would we want them to be foul-mouthed winners, or champions who respect the game and play it for all the right reasons?

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An author, poet, soft skills trainer and sports enthusiast, who has a Masters in Sports Journalism and NCTJ-accredited level 3 Diploma in Journalism
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