20/03/2015 2:00 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

McCullum's NZ At The Doorstep Of Long-Term Ambition

New Zealand batsman Brendon McCullum waves his bat as he leaves the field after he was dismissed for 77 runs during their Cricket World Cup match against England in Wellington, New Zealand, Friday Feb. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

This article is from Cricbuzz.

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By Jamie Alter

Racing analogies are never far from the surface for Brendon McCullum. The New Zealand captain knows a thing or two about horse racing, having shares in around ten high-quality racehorses, so when he describes his New Zealand team being a horse at its peak, you should take notice.

"In horse racing, and I'm a big horse racing fan, if we miss the start it doesn't mean we're out of the race. I think the horse has never been better, and we've got every chance in this game to be able to go out there and win even if things aren't a hundred percent. That's something we probably can't say about too many New Zealand teams in the past, that's encouraging," said McCullum with a twinkle in his eyes ahead of the quarter-final against West Indies at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.

" I'm still confident that we've got the team that even if we don't have the perfect trip, we're still a chance of being there at the finish. We'll wait to see what unfolds."

"We're certainly not fearful. I don't think you can be fearful of anything in this game. It's a competition between two teams and a competition between bat and ball. That's pretty much where it lies. You can't be too worried about the emotions which come into the game. You've just got to deal with the game as it unfolds. If West Indies turns up tomorrow, someone plays a match-winning innings which is good enough to overcome and upset our best, then I can live with that. That's just how the game is played. But I'm still confident that we've got the team that even if we don't have the perfect trip, we're still a chance of being there at the finish. We'll wait to see what unfolds."

brendon mccullum

Under McCullum's captaincy, which has been hailed by the likes of Hadlee and Stephen Fleming for its aggressive nature, New Zealand have metamorphosed from being a bunch of talented individuals to real match-winners. In Tests, they have beaten West Indies home and away, India and Sri Lanka at home and levelled with Pakistan in the UAE after being down 0-1. In ODIs, they have beaten South Africa 2-1 away, England 2-0 away, India 4-0 at home, Sri Lanka 5-1 at home, Pakistan 2-0 at home. Now, in the World Cup, they are unbeaten in six matches.

On Saturday, one of McCullum's New Zealand and West Indies will go on to the semi-finals. Sitting in the exact spot as Sir Richard Hadlee had a day before when summing up New Zealand's build-up to the World Cup as coming down to "seven hours of cricket", McCullum echoed the Kiwi great when simplifying the sport. "This game it has a funny, funny way of biting you if you take your eye off the ball. We know what works for us," he said. "We need to go out there and make sure we're nice and calm in our mindset, and make sure that we know what's on the line but still be able to execute the skills that have served us so well over a number of games now. In seven hours the game can turn on a knife edge."

McCullum hopes it will not be the end of the tournament for New Zealand, and carries forward the good vibes of a team that has won a lot of cricket over the last 18 months under his brand of leadership.

"I think it definitely gives this team the greatest opportunity of being successful. It's a big game, but we'll go out there and enjoy the moment, enjoy the stage that we'll be presented and a full house at Wellington and hopefully we perform accordingly," he said. "We've played a couple of sort of big World Cup games beforehand. There are big moments in every series as well. [In] Test matches there's been key times where we've been able to go and create history through some of our actions as well. But if we can get the job done tomorrow, we'd obviously be pretty pleased with that. Then we'd head into what would be our next big game as well. So, yeah, we'll prepare accordingly. We're not going to get too far in front of ourselves as a group. We know tomorrow will be a tough challenge, and we need to make sure we stand up and plan to execute our skills."

"That style of cricket we're playing has obviously served us well. Things don't always go according to plan. Then you obviously have to move into plan B. "

New Zealand's campaign has largely been defined by McCullum, whether it is his gung-ho batting approach to chasing small totals, such as against England and Australia, or his usage of four slips when his two best bowlers are operating, or when he is flinging himself across the turf to take catches or sliding into advertising boards to save runs. That attacking type of cricket has carried New Zealand to the quarter-finals, and McCullum has full plans for a repeat performance against West Indies.

"We want to play that brand of cricket. We've identified that that's what's going to make us a team which is going to be tough to beat. I can't see that changing. I would hope it doesn't change," he said. "I think just because there is pressure on a game it shouldn't take you away from what is your best opportunity to win. That style of cricket we're playing has obviously served us well. Things don't always go according to plan. Then you obviously have to move into plan B. But I think we've got the players, not just skill-wise, but also the characters within the group that can quickly adjust to that as well. But I think it's safe to assume we'll still try to play an entertaining and attacking brand of cricket, and I'm sure West Indies will do the same. I'm sure it will be a great game."

The winner of Saturday's match will face South Africa at Eden Park in the semi-final, but McCullum is not looking towards Auckland. "We're not good enough for that," he said matter-of-factly, without hesitation. "We know we have to make sure that we are respectful of the opposition coming up against every game. I think that's a skill that we've shown through the tournament so far that we play what's in front of us, regardless who that is, and we deal with the games which follow when they come about. Tomorrow is no different. Our focus is very much on this game against West Indies and make sure we perform accordingly. If good things happen, we'll deal with those in due course."

McCullum, 33, has had his nerves stirred previously as the owner of a horse racing team for $1 million in early 2014. On that day, his prized Prince Mambo struggled on a rain-affected track and closed late for seventh. On what is expected to be a balmy Saturday in Wellington, he will undeniably be nervy leading New Zealand out for the biggest match as captain. He believes his horse is on the right track, but whether it can claim the big prize remains to be seen.


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