Special Report by Debasish Datta (for The Samaya)
Chris Gayle might have rewritten the World Cup record books by scoring a majestic 215 against Zimbabwe, but David Warner, the Aussie opener, stands tall among those performers who are ready to set the grass on fire every time he enters the ground!
And there is another contender, too! Brendon McCullum, the Kiwi skipper. His bruising strokeplay could stand between Australia and top spot in Group A. But McCullum is said to be susceptible to a “brain explosion”, according to opener David Warner, who has asked the hostile Eden Park crowd to boo the Australians on Saturday to boost his and the Aussie morale!
McCullum, the country’s sportsman of the year, is all the rage in New Zealand, where optimism is high about the prospects of toppling their close neighbours in Saturday’s World Cup meeting in Auckland, just as they did in 1992.
He blasted the tournament’s fastest ever fifty in their annihilation of England in Wellington – albeit in a modest run chase and coming off a year in which he became New Zealand’s first triple centurion in Test cricket, and posted two other double centuries and a score of 195.
Australia, however, enter the trans-Tasman clash with opener Aaron Finch coming off a hundred against England and his partner believes McCullum can be brought undone if their bowlers bowl in the right areas to him.
“I won’t give advice to the bowlers, they should know what line and length to bowl to McCullum,” Warner said. “But if he nicks them we’ve got to catch them. If they bowl the right line and lengths we’ll get him out. He’s a player who can come down the wicket, use the off side well. We’ve got to back our strengths. If we bowl well to him, we’ll create the pressure and he’ll have a brain explosion.”
An Australia-New Zealand clash is more like an India-Pakistan match in the sub-continent. The neighbours do not share the best of sporting-relationships. So, the combative Warner expects a rough reception at a sold-out Eden Park but is typically not shying away from it. “I hope they come out and boo us and give us crap like they always do,” he said. “That’s what’s going to happen. We love it, it gets us up and going, gets the adrenaline going for sure.
“I love it. You get some obscure swear words and a couple of things thrown at you, but that’s what you expect when you come here. It’s happened before. It’s probably going to happen again. But I embrace it. They can give it to me as much as they want. I’ll just get it on board and let my bat do the talking.”
McCullum, 33, has been on the international scene for 13 years. He has played 42 of his 243 ODIs against the Australians and those who where there remember well the Twenty20 clash in Christchurch five years ago when he bashed a 56-ball unbeaten 116 to lead the Kiwis to a thrilling victory.
That game was tied and it was Warner and Cameron White who came out to face the super over before McCullum and Martin Guptill got the Black Caps home.
“I think a lot of people have seen in the last 10 years how Brendon McCullum can bat. It’s not by fluke or by chance he’s come out and scored the runs he has,” Warner said. “He’s had a great last 12 months but at the end of the day he’s one player out of the rest of their team.”
The Australians have also seen plenty of McCullum in the Indian Premier League, where on the opening night of that tournament he hit a jaw-dropping 158 in 2008. Darren Lehmann has also coached him in the Big Bash League at the Brisbane Heat.
“I haven’t played much against him,” Warner said. “But he seems like a great guy. I think a lot of the guys know him off the field. He seems like a great, humble guy. But when we walk on the field it’s going to be a different story.”