On Monday night I was lucky enough to attend the annual Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s where Brendon McCullum was the guest speaker. In the Nursery Ground pavilion the former New Zealand captain spoke passionately about the game he loves; the tragic death of Philip Hughes, his involvement in Chris Cairns’s match fixing trial and the repercussions that followed. He spoke incredibly honestly and frankly about how these completely differing factors have affected him as a person foremost and, as a cricketer secondly.
His international career spanned just over a decade but it was really the final half of it that he moved under the main spotlight. Since taking over the captaincy, New Zealand’s improvement has been staggering and their achievements have captured the imagination of their own rugby obsessed country. Whilst he insists that it was a collective effort, it is easy to see why so many wanted to follow the example he set.
His stories and comments surrounding the death of Hughes appear to be the final vindication of New Zealand’s approach. With many players and staff simply too distraught to play after Hughes’s passing, it was hoped that their final Test match against Pakistan in the UAE would be cancelled. It was decided, however, that play should go on and the Kiwis recorded one of their biggest ever victories away from home and achieved a hugely creditable drawn series against Pakistan.
He said that they played without any fear. If the game had to go ahead then they should enjoy it and losing really didn’t matter. The inhibitions were thus cast aside and in scoring over 600 runs in an innings they recorded their highest score ever. Without bowling any bouncers or aggressive tactics they then managed to take the final 10 Pakistani wickets and ensure that the series was drawn.
The comments that seem to have made the most headlines, however, are the ones surrounding the evidence that he gave against former team mate Cairns and the punishment of Lou Vincent. The waters are certainly murky around this entire episode but his passionate plea for the ICC to stand firmer against corruption in the game is one that has to be taken extremely seriously. From his account of events the matter was certainly not treated as seriously as it should have been and it casts yet more shadows over the governing bodies of this fine sport.
His comments regarding Vincent’s punishment were interesting and his suggestion that perhaps his ex-team mate should be used as an example to fight this nasty element that plagues the game was spot on. Offenders certainly need to be punished for their crimes but having the book thrown at you after pleading guilty and aiding the ICC should have resulted in the offence being less severely punished. This topic will of course rear its head in the coming months with the news that Mohammed Amir has been included in the Pakistan squad for the upcoming series in England.
Overall McCullum came across as a very amiable and intelligent man who saw what was in front of him and opted to change the way his country played the game. It is something that has benefitted cricket already and in the future the powers that be need to ensure that McCullum remains within the game and is able to pass on his wisdom to future generations.
The biggest thing that I took away from hearing him speak is that it reminded me that sport is there to be enjoyed. Despite the huge finances of modern sport, here is someone who has reached the top of their field and still spent almost his entire time smiling. Win, lose or draw his ethos was that as long as he could look himself in the mirror and know that he had given a true account of himself, that everything was okay.
By Andy Hunter
Brendon McCullum’s entire lecture can be read here: Cricket was meant to be a game, not a life or death struggle
And seen here: