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Brendon McCullum’s name will be etched in the history of the Indian Premier League in bold letters. The tournament owes its stunning entry in world cricket to him and the bat with which he blasted 158* for KKR against RCB in the first ever IPL match.
This year, McCullum has joined the Chennai Super Kings. And despite their incredibly rich batting resources, the Kiwi captain is sure to play a major role in the team’s fate, as the inspirational opening batsman. He gave a glimpse of that with a 45-ball 67 in CSK’s first match, against KXIP.
In a chat with iplt20.com, McCullum spoke about his new team and its strong culture. He looked forward to playing with MS Dhoni and reuniting with his former New Zealand captain, Stephen Fleming.
The IPL has been a rather mixed tournament for you. From the 158 on debut to a few inconsistent years in the middle. Do you believe this will be your season?
I hope so. It has been a mixed experience for me in the IPL and it happens in a tournament where only four overseas players are allowed. There have been times when I didn’t get enough chances but this year I hope to play more matches for CSK and make a big contribution consistently.
Throughout your career you’ve mostly been the sole destructive batsman in your team with others to play around you. This CSK team is filled with power hitters like yourself. Is this a new experience for you?
Yes, it is. This lineup is filled with power-hitters. If Smith and I get out, there is Raina, Faf, Dhoni, Bravo – they just keep coming. Our strategy as a team is to go all-out for 20 overs and given we have so many attacking batsmen, we can afford to go with that mindset. Yes, most teams have one or two batsmen whose role is to occupy one end and steady the innings. We are not looking for that role because of all the batsmen we have, one or two will click invariably. And if any of those guys bat for long, they will score big.
You and Dhoni have much in common as your respective countries’ keeper-batsmen and captains. Has there been any intense brainstorming sessions between you two?
Well, there are many things that he and I don’t have in common too. But yes, he is a very nice guy, very humble and one of the best captains in the world. I am pleased to have this opportunity to play under his leadership since there are many things one can learn from the man.
You are a top-order batsman and he is a finisher. Yet, do you think there are aspects of batting you both can take from each other?
In this format, the roles don’t change much. Whether you are a top-order batsman or a finisher, boundaries are the way to go about it. So, yes, there are many aspects of batting we can share with each other. And no, the helicopter shot is not on my list (smiles).
Would you like to get your hands on the keeping gloves in a few matches? You think you’ll be able to convince the skipper?
Oh, no, I am happy to let him do the job behind the stumps. My body is not up to regular work behind the wickets now. I am glad to be in the same team as Dhoni, who is a brilliant wicketkeeper. I am the backup option if the team requires one.
How’s it to reunite with your first Test captain?
It is great. It has been a while since I have been in a team where Stephen has been present in a leadership role. It’s nice to listen to the old stories again from him. For me he was the best captain in the world when I played under him and now, after spending some time with him at the CSK camp, I feel he has grown further stronger as a leader and an individual.
CSK is one IPL team that has undergone the least change since the first season. It is a very cohesive tight-knit unit. Is it relatively difficult or easy to settle into such a team for a new player?
I think it is easy to get in a team with a strong culture as a new player because it gives you clarity. You know exactly how to find your way into the team and what is expected off you. A tight-knit unit will often be more welcoming of a new player because they know the importance of having the whole team united and on one page.
In Dhoni, yourself, Bravo and Faf you have four international captains in CSK. Do you all share the leadership role and is there a lot of brainstorming about the team’s strategy and stuff?
At CSK there is only one captain and that is MS Dhoni. He is the sole decision-maker when it comes to the on-field matters. There is not much team talk about that. However, as experienced leaders, we are expected to do small things off the field like guiding the younger players and helping out the team-mates with things they need assistance with. On the field there are smaller things like we must not wait for the captain to wave his hands at us asking to step a bit closer of further. We should be able to figure those things out with our experience.
You are one of the top cricketers in the world at the peak of your career. What does a player of your stature stands to gain from a tournament like IPL?
The financial security is obviously one thing and it is very well documented. But playing in the IPL is not just about that. Irrespective of whether you are just starting your career, are at the peak of it or in the twilight, the learning never stops. And I am not just talking about the cricket here. You gather all the experiences and information you get from interacting with players from various parts of the world and grow as a human being as well. Some of my best mates are the people I’ve met during the IPL and these friendships last for a long time even after you have left cricket. We go visit each other’s houses overseas and develop a bond that goes much beyond cricket.
This is the first IPL experience for Corey Anderson. Did he speak to you ahead of the tournament as to what to expect? Was he nervous?
I haven’t spoken to him yet but I do look forward to doing so the next time I see him. Corey and Jimmy Neesham are young and exciting players who will be exceptional cricketers one day. This is their first IPL and it is going to be an experience to remember for them. I am sure they will emerge stronger and better players from this experience.
Sanju Samson is not an ‘in your face’ kind of cricketer. He goes about doing his business without much fuss, and while seeing him bat, you get the sense that he is batting with a plan. He is, therefore, a lot like his mentor, Rahul Dravid, who was more than eager to include a raw talent like Samson in the Rajasthan Royals squad. Samson has been a success story ever since his notable contributions for RR and his outstanding performances in first-class cricket.
On Sunday night, Sanju Samson’s first half-century of Pepsi IPL 2014 for the Rajasthan Royals was overshadowed by Kings XI Punjab’s Glenn Maxwell and David Miller, who chased a huge total with apparent ease. Such was the nature of those two innings that two other brilliant knocks in the same match – those of Sanju Samson and Shane Watson – took a backseat. Very rarely does one feel like 191 was not enough in a T20 game, but such was the nature of the batsman-friendly Sharjah track.
“The wicket was supportive to the batsmen and the match was always alive even after getting 190-plus on the board.” Sanju Samson said, as he spoke to IPLT20.com after the match. “It was that kind of day for our opposition when everything went their way, and credit to them for the way they played,” added Samson.
The youngster is surely not flustered by one bad day on the field for his team. But it did hurt the 19-year-old to see his side on the losing side. “I have always loved to play for Rajasthan Royals and I am very happy that I contributed from my end to help the team get to a formidable total. But it hurts that we lost the match after playing so well,” he said.
But Samson and co. have a long way to go. He feels that he is in good nick and had come well prepared for the tournament. “I played many matches here in the UAE in under-19 tournaments. I played the Asia Cup and World Cup here and knew the wickets well. That experience really helped me to be in good touch ahead of the IPL.”
So, have there been any changes over the years in Samson the batsman? “This year, I want to finish more games for the Rajasthan Royals,” he says with conviction. “I want to play according to my game plan. I have been successful in doing that so far. I am playing according to the opposition and choosing the bowlers that I want to attack.”
Against Kings XI Punjab, Samson was at his attacking best. He hit four sixes – two of them straight down the ground over the bowler’s head and the other two in the ‘V’. Aggression, according to Samson, comes naturally to him. “I always try to dominate the bowlers and I am an aggressive batsman. Tonight, I felt like being aggressive while batting and was hungry for some runs and I got that. I always try to gauge my innings and play according to the situation. I play according to the field and according to the bowler I am facing. Tonight was no different.”
When asked if he had any goals for the future, he replied, “I do not like to set goals. I only react according to the situation and I am happy with the way I am playing at the moment.