x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

McCullum keen to plough on

The Black Caps keeper and opener is hoping to score more match-winning centuries after he was stripped off his vice captaincy.

McCullum has had many a good start but squandered it away until Friday.
McCullum has had many a good start but squandered it away until Friday.

ABU DHABI // Daniel Vettori can add "agony uncle" to the already excessive list of duties he fulfils for the New Zealand cricket team. Their captain, selector and all-round guru even seems to have mastered that, going by the dramatic return to form of his colleague, Brendon McCullum. The Black Caps wicketkeeper, McCullum scored a century to help his side beat Pakistan by 64 runs on Friday, to keep the three-match ODI series alive at 1-1.

McCullum confided in his leader that he had felt under increasing pressure to perform in the UAE. He had good reason, too. McCullum had a lead role in New Zealand's fraught build up to the series against Pakistan in the emirates. While Andy Moles left his job as head coach in the wake of an apparent fall out with the players, their gloveman was also de-listed as the side's official vice captain. On arrival in Dubai, Vettori quickly nipped any conjecture in the bud by stating that not much had really changed, and that McCullum would still captain the side if he was forced to absent himself at any point. As his critics continued to question his worth as an opener, McCullum, who had been run-shy of late by his own high standards, knew he had to prove a point fast.

"I mentioned it to Dan at half-time that I had felt a lot of pressure leading up to that game to put in a performance to show my worth as an opener," he said, after his sparkling 131 in the capital. "I've made a lot of starts but haven't managed to be as influential at the top of the order as I would have liked and recapture the form I had when I first opened a couple of years ago. "It is nice to get a performance to show I am capable of doing something at the top. If I do get away and play those types of innings we are going to win more often than not. It is a start and it is now a case I make sure I build on it and make more hundreds."

The problem with silencing critics is that often you can prove their point in the process. McCullum officially had his title of vice captain taken away from him in order to hasten his return to form with the bat. Two games later, he has his second one-day international century, against an on-song Pakistan bowling attack. With a success rate like that, perhaps the powers-that-be in New Zealand cricket should be placed in charge of reviving the global economy.

Does McCullum feel being freed of responsibility has had a discernable impact already? "I knew what my role was," he added. "I still feel I am a senior player in the group. As a senior player you are there to perform. Whether I have the vice captaincy tag or not, I still think I have some thoughts to offer Dan along the way." McCullum's vigil in the second match was decisive in setting up a 64 run win for the New Zealanders, which in turn means tomorrow's final ODI is winner-takes-all.

Vettori was thankful for his wicketkeeper's timely return to form. He said: "It put some pressure back on Pakistan for the first time with the bat. "That enabled us to get through to that score of 300. Once we got there we backed ourselves to defend it with our bowling unit." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae Log on to www.thenational.ae/sport to follow the live action from the game tomorrow, right from the toss.