ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2019
How McCullum put two nations on path to glory
England and New Zealand reflect on the impact of former Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum ahead of the ODI World Cup final at Lord's
Louis Cameron in London
14 July 2019, 04:18 PM AEST
Brendon McCullum rarely walked off a cricket ground without having had a dramatic impact on what had just unfolded.
So, on the eve of the World Cup final, when the jetlagged former New Zealand captain took a walk across the Lord's outfield, perched himself on the digital advertising hoardings off to the side of the famed pavilion and put his black bag down on the hallowed turf, he might have allowed himself a moment to consider his influence on the upcoming encounter.
McCullum had to fly home for the Black Caps’ upset semi-final win over India, but made good on his vow to return if they made the decider.
After taking a quick glance at the pitch and sharing a joke with groundstaff, McCullum caught up briefly with England captain Eoin Morgan, whose wedding he had emceed in November and who, on Sunday, will have the chance to go a step further than the former Kiwi skipper did four years ago.
Asked about McCullum's influence on this English side, Morgan said: "I think he has had quite a bit to do with it. You could say (that) about world cricket.
"We are close mates and he's taught me a lot about leadership. In 2015, the way that New Zealand played (was) very similar to the way they are playing at the moment.
"They proved to everybody that you can perform at the highest level and get to the top by being yourselves and not trying to be somebody else, or a different team, or be somebody that is a bit of a novelty for everybody else."
💪 This will get you going🏴 101 players have gone before our current World Cup squad🗣 They have all sent in their messages for the lads🏆 COME ON ENGLAND🎥 via @PCA 👏#CWC19 #WeAreEngland pic.twitter.com/x4PxSM0kjr— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 13, 2019
The Black Caps' fate in 2015 decider looked set four balls into the final when Mitchell Starc castled McCullum, and was then confirmed hours later when Steve Smith hit the winning runs. But, as Morgan noted, the cavalier batsman had sown the seeds for something greater.
A month before he’d sealed New Zealand's first ever appearance in a World Cup decider, McCullum had trampled all over England's stuttering campaign in Wellington with an astonishing 25-ball blitz that yielded 77 runs and saw his side reel in 123 in just 12.2 overs.
"It was as close to rock bottom as I’ve been," Morgan reflected recently. "Certainly as a captain and as a player, being beaten off the park like that is humiliating.
"I didn't know what to feel because things were so bad, but we still had games to play. It was weird. It was a terrible day, one of those moments in my career that will standout forever in my life as a day where I was devastated not only with the way we performed, but also the way we carried ourselves."
The match, and England's subsequent group-stage exit, helped to crystallise Morgan's view of how he wanted his side to take on the game in four years' time.
"The way (McCullum’s) New Zealand team played, the way they did it their own way was important. It's important for any team to get their own identity and stick with it," he said.
Intriguingly, McCullum might have had an even greater impact on England and their approach to 50-over cricket than he has his former teammates.
Under his successor Kane Williamson, New Zealand are not the same outfit McCullum moulded into a fearless, fun-loving force that encapsulated the spirit of the 2015 tournament.
Boulty wants to see plenty of Kiwi birds in the crowd tomorrow 🤭🤣 #CWC19 pic.twitter.com/NQ0IybwveB— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) July 13, 2019
That very Kiwi, relaxed view of the game still permeates the current squad that features six players (Williamson, Ross Taylor, Trent Boult, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry and Tim Southee) from the XI that lost to Australia at the MCG in 2015.
But they have naturally evolved.
"We have a very different group, a slightly different vibe and ethos and how we operate," Williamson said.
"But at the same time there's a real commitment to (being relaxed) which is a really positive thing and it's held us in good stead to this point. The focus for us is about the cricket that we want to play, and we want to be proud of the performance that we put on the board."
As far as batting styles go, Williamson and McCullum are chalk and cheese, and that has rubbed off on this current New Zealand side's outlook.
In a tournament that some touted as being likely to see ODI cricket's first ever score of 500, the Black Caps have made the final having not yet scored over 300.
On the back of Williamson's technically-sound approach that's netted him more runs – 548 of them at 91.33 – than any other Kiwi at a World Cup, their success has also been based on cricket smarts and early wickets with the ball.
Their upset semi-final win over India embodied that game plan, with Williamson explaining how his team realised during their batting innings that a score between 200 and 250 on a tricky Old Trafford surface would be defendable given the quality of their bowling attack.
It could again prove a valid approach on Sunday.
"Turning up, most teams having played here before expected scores to be a lot higher than what we have seen, but the reality of it is that they have been quite tough surfaces," said Williamson.
"There's been surfaces that have aged throughout perhaps a match on one day, so trying to make those adjustments are really important.
"Like in the last game, I think both sides looked at the surface, thought it was a really good one, and thought perhaps 300-and-something was what was going to be at play.
"But after 15 overs or so, (we were) having conversations thinking, 'this is really quite difficult and 300 looks like a long, long way away.' If we are able to perhaps achieve something a little bit more realistic on that surface, then that gives you every chance to win the matches.
"We have done it on a number of occasions, but we will have to be good at doing that (on Sunday)."
The Lord's pitch that McCullum briefly inspected on Saturday appeared green, though Morgan suggested there was less grass on it that it appears from afar.
Morgan's mantra throughout the tournament, even when England were in the midst of a slump that nearly derailed their campaign, has been to default to aggressive, attacking cricket led by the likes of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes.
But he conceded Sunday's clash may not be the high-scoring contest they typically thrive in.
"In general, throughout the tournament the scores have been a lot lower than they have previously been here (in England) in the last three or four years," said Morgan. "Us adjusting to that has been harder work than it normally is."
"Lord's isn't ever a high-scoring ground so I'd say (it) isn't going to be a high-scoring (game), so it will be a bit of a battle."
And whoever wins, McCullum will likely be smiling at the end of it.