McCullum examines Kiwis’ spin woes
Bengaluru, Aug 30: That New Zealand batsmen prefer facing fast bowlers than be confronted by spinners, is a fact well known and accepted. However, in the last month and a half Kiwi batsmen’s spin woes have been exposed substantially in Test cricket. First, Sunil Narine made merry at their expense in the Caribbean and a few days ago, the Indian spin duo of R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha picked 18 NZ wickets in the first Test, in Hyderabad.
Experts and fans have been trying to figure out the root cause of the problem and have offered various solutions. We, at bcci.tv, tried to figure out the problem by speaking to the senior most man in New Zealand’s current Test line-up. He has been terrorising bowlers at the highest level for eight years with his mighty willow. And most importantly, he seems to have cracked the code of handling Indian bowlers on Indian tracks, or so says his record. A Test average 62 and a highest score of 225 in India while manning the top order is a dream of any batsman from that part of the world. But for Brendon McCullum, it is a reality.
In a tête-à-tête with bcci.tv McCullum spoke about the problems that his fellow batsman are facing against quality spin and offered some vital pointers that need to be kept in mind while battling spin. He also hoped the second Test, in Bengaluru, would end his series of low scores and he’d contribute in getting the team out of the rut.
Excerpts from his interview:
You’ve always performed well in and against India. How would you explain that?
The last 10 years have probably got the best out of me. The conditions here sometimes suit me; they slow my game down a little bit and help me concentrate a bit more. It’s never easy playing in India against India, but it’s good to have played against them so far. Also, when you’re playing against Sachin Tendulkar and the likes, you try and bring out your A game.
Batsmen from that part of the world often struggle on Indian wickets. What’s the trick to succeeding here?
I’m still learning myself. But especially when you’re opening the batting, you make sure that you’re off to a solid start against the new ball. The spinners come into the attack very soon and things tend to slow down. When the spinners do come on, you ensure that you have a good defensive game in place. That’s something I’ve always worked very hard every time I’ve come to the subcontinent.
What was the main reason behind New Zealand’s capitulation to Ashwin and Ojha in the first Test?
First, they bowled really well and put us under pressure. They kept attacking us with their field as well. MS Dhoni really kept the pressure on us with men around the bat and by chopping and changing of those men right through our innings. We got into a bit of rut; we didn’t start well in the first innings; that compounded and we never really got the momentum back. There were really only one or two partnerships in both our innings combined, which showed any promise.
Is there a definite lack of skill here or is it more of a mental thing?
We’re all very skilled players but we seem to have lost access to our skills a little bit. We’re having a mental block and putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. Sometimes, when you’re fighting so hard to not get out, you’re creating a lot worse situation for yourself. You’d rather get yourself in that nice, calm state of mind where you play each ball on merit. That’s where we’ve gotten into trouble against spinners. We’ve probably been trying far too hard to survive rather than enjoying the moment and the ball that you’re facing.
What’s the best way to approach spinners – counterattack or caution?
You have to strike a balance. You cannot be over-attacking or getting stuck at one end and let the bowler dictate terms. If you keep rotating the strike and still score off them without taking risks, it becomes a lot easier. You’ve got to find your natural tempo. For some guys it is attacking cricket, while for others it’s rotating strike. Some guys are very able in moving forwards and backwards to access the areas where the spinners bowl and pick singles. You cannot afford to get bogged down for 30-40 balls without scoring. You have to give yourself a breather by getting off the strike.
Who among young New Zealand batsmen is best equipped to face spin bowling in terms of skills, technique and temperament?
At the moment, I’d say Kane Williamson is probably ahead of the pack in terms of his age, [in terms of] his temperament and his ability against spin. The others have that skills too, but at the moment, Kane’s the one displaying it the best.
Is a massive improvement in this regard possible as far as other batsmen in the team are concerned?
All our guys definitely have the skill. I believe we have a skilled batting line-up that is capable of scoring ruins in all conditions. Yes, New Zealanders haven’t been the best players of spin but we’ve got to keep persevering and trying to help one another out to develop them into good players of spin bowling.
Daniel Vettori has joined the squad in Bengaluru. Has he been talking to the young batsmen and working with them in the nets in this regard?
Dan’s tremendously respected among all the players in the team. But he’s also smart in how he delivers information to the guys. He certainly won’t impress things on them too much. He knows it’s better for us batsmen to work it out ourselves. We’ve got to go out there and believe in our own game. Dan has some information and he will pass that on, but in a very meticulous and clever way. We have been working out ways to improve and the second Test will give us an opportunity to showcase the hard work.