One of the more salient aspects of England's defeat to New Zealand was that, even in the alternative universe in which England win games like that, you simply couldn't imagine them doing it in that way.
McCullum, that's why.
Or, more precisely, the type of cricketing culture which McCullum represents. A culture in which flamboyance, optimism and spontaneity are embraced. Alright, McCullum may be a one-off, or near enough (this, perhaps, may have been how Shane Warne would have captained Australia had he been given the opportunity), but the way in which he was prepared to attack, attack and then attack some more, simply threw the pedestrian, conformist, tactically bewildered nature of the England team's collective mentality into sharper relief.
Tim Southee is maturing into the world-class bowler he always threatened to become, and his work at the Cake Tin was devastating. But England have, and have had, outstanding bowlers too. On another day, in another time, Jimmy Anderson could have bowled like that. Even - though in the light of his brainless performance in Wellington this appears to be stretching credibility - Stuart Broad could have done the same. But you know, you just know, that a captain like Cook, or Strauss, or probably Morgan, wouldn't have backed his bowler in the way McCullum instinctively did. McCullum's tactics were innovative in that they went against what has become ingrained thinking about how one-day innings should be conducted, especially in (or by) England, but they weren't used in a self-conscious or hesitant way. They were simply what he felt to be the best way to win the match. It's been said many times - though more, one suspects, in stands and commentary boxes than on the pitches of the international world - that the best way to slow a side's scoring rate down is to take wickets. But how many captains will actively try to do that? How many bowlers would love to feel the type of confidence in them which such an approach represents?
There has to be a touch of arrogance in it, sure - 'you're pissing on this lot, just keep bowling' was what McCullum was saying to Southee - which goes against the natural English instinct too, but it sure as hell beats putting the field back and brining on someone to bowl darts hook when you have a side on the slide. Okay, it could all have gone wrong, but on this day you knew it wouldn't. This was a rapidly improving side, brimming with confidence and feeding off home advantage, against a team that have long since forgotten (if they ever knew) how to play one-day cricket.
English cricket has been mired in ponderous, hubristic conservatism for as long as you care to recall. Though he was complicit in his own downfall and there are a myriad nuanced complexities to it that most of us will never know about, this is what fed the long-term distrust of the greatest batting genius England have ever had. This is what fed the retention of Alastair Cook as one-day captain long beyond the point where his position had become untenable. This is what fed England's part in the carve-up of international cricket by the 'big three' (the idea of England being part of a big anything in cricket terms just seems mad). And this is what fed the rejection of a different type of domestic Twenty20 competition when the chance was there. Possibly most damagingly of all, this is what feeds the underlying feeling that, because England can still win the odd Test series, and people actually turn up in numbers to watch it, that continually failing in one-day cricket doesn't really matter.
McCullum can bat, too.
Boats against the current
23 hours ago