ICC Twenty20 World Cup, 2009
Gloveman McCullum Holds Key for New Zealand31-May-2009 09:11:00 IST
Wellington: The weight of New Zealand's Twenty20 World Cup expectations rests heavily on the shoulders of Brendon McCullum and his burning desire to be recognised as the world's best wicketkeeper-batsman.
The diminutive gloveman is the key element in New Zealand's game plan with his audacious batting at the top of the order and his lightning-fast reactions behind the woodwork.
That the 27-year-old's name is often mentioned as a contender to inherit the mantle of Australian great Adam Gilchrist speaks volumes for his ability.
In the Indian Premier League, the Kolkata Knight Riders valued McCullum at $700,000, the biggest offer for a New Zealand player, when they snapped him up last year.
They were immediately rewarded when he launched the inaugural IPL series by smashing a record 158 off 73 balls and he ended the season with an average 62.66 with the bat at a strike rate of 204.35.
New Zealand's 2008 Player of the Year has also won high praise from Australia where a cameo McCullum performance helped New South Wales qualify for the Champions League Twenty20 tournament in October.
In the just-completed second IPL series leading up to the World Twenty20, McCullum's batting was below par by his usual standards, finishing with an average of 23.75 at a strike rate of 119.24.
But ominiously, McCullum was working his way into form as the World Twenty20 approached with two knocks in the 80s in his last four IPL innings.
In a side which struggles for consistancy, much is made of whether McCullum's best role with the bat is as a blockbusting opener or an aggressive middle-order hitter who can get New Zealand across the finish line.
Coach Andy Moles is adamant he will lead with McCullum in partnership with the emerging Jesse Ryder.
"Opening is Brendon's place," he said with memories still fresh of the way McCullum engineered a clean sweep over India in their Twenty20 two-match series in February.
McCullum carried his bat through both innings and in a dramatic finish to the second game he calmly stroked a single off the final ball to secure the win.
New Zealand will rely on that same McCullum calmness to get them through the World Twenty20, while the gloveman will be looking to enhance his own reputation as well as aiding his country.
"I want to be the best batsman-keeper in the world," he told the New Zealand Herald.