Brendon McCullum: The public selection process for Daniel Vettori’s captaincy successor was not good for “our relationship, or any team with the two of us in it” © AFP
Brendon McCullum has written of the uninspiring leadership of Ross Taylor and how the tension and mistrust during his captaincy left the New Zealand team on the verge of imploding. In his book Declared, McCullum has devoted a whole chapter to “the coup that wasn’t”, describing in some detail Taylor’s failings as a captain and the circumstances that led to the souring of their relationship, and clarifying that he had no role to play in the axing of Taylor as captain.
The captaincy switch from Taylor to McCullum in 2012 is one of the more bitter chapters in New Zealand’s cricket history. The timing of the fresh revelations could not have been worse, with Taylor struggling for form on New Zealand’s tour of India. The team, too, has had a tough tour, having lost all three Tests and the first ODI by the time the book was released on October 20. Since then, they won one ODI and lost another, with Taylor’s drop of Virat Kohli in the third ODI costing New Zealand 148 runs and arguably the match. NZC’s manager of public affairs Richard Boock told the New Zealand Herald that Taylor has seen media reports but is not “rushing out to find a copy” of the book.
After Daniel Vettori gave up captaincy following the 2011 World Cup, Taylor edged McCullum as the next captain after a “public” process in which both of them were asked to present their cases. In the book, McCullum speaks of not being satisfied with that process, and of how the public nature of rejecting one of the candidates was not good for “our relationship, or any team with the two of us in it”.
The cracks first appeared on the West Indies tour of 2012. McCullum had been rested for the limited-overs leg of the tour, but an injury to Taylor meant he was sent an SOS to lead the team. This was also the last assignment as New Zealand coach for John Wright, who was struggling to forge a good working relationship with John Buchanan, director of cricket at NZC. McCullum made it to the West Indies in time for the third ODI, but he was told Kane Williamson, who had captained in the first two, was going to continue leading for the sake of continuity. McCullum didn’t play that game, but his introduction later made little difference as New Zealand won just one ODI on a tour of two Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is.
“Either Ross was highly resistant to my captaining the team and leant on Wrighty to change his mind, or it was just an organisational cock-up by Wrighty,” McCullum writes in Declared. “The rest of the tour suggested the latter, because much of it was a shambles.”
Like Taylor, Wright comes out in poor light, but the appointment of Otago’s Mike Hesson as new coach widened the cracks in the relationship between McCullum and Taylor. In McCullum’s estimation, Hesson was seen as his mate whereas Wright hadn’t been seen as a big fan of McCullum. In the book, McCullum reveals he had actually recommended Australian Matthew Mott despite knowing his friend Hesson was in the fray.
McCullum feels that with Hesson’s appointment, Taylor withdrew further; he had, according to McCullum, already been burdened by Wright’s failings as coach.
“It seemed to me that, right from the start, Ross was suspicious of Hess’s motives,” McCullum writes. “So instead of taking Hess on his merits, Ross seemed already closed to him. I knew there had been a bit of talk behind the scenes after Hesson’s appointment, and that some were seeing a conspiracy.
“It wasn’t a very complicated scenario they were pushing: that my mate Stephen Fleming had influenced the selection board to give the coaching job to my other mate Mike Hesson, whose ultimate goal was to replace Ross as captain with me. One problem with that narrative was that I had recommended Matthew Mott to the selection panel, but details like that tend to spoil a good conspiracy theory, and as events unfolded, it was clear that logic would play an ever-diminishing role.”
McCullum still felt that Hesson tried to help Taylor revive his captaincy career and the sinking team, which had by now lost both the Tests in India too. “Time and again on what became a long grind of a tour, with changes of format and players around the core group coming and going, Mike set up a lot of meetings as a group, trying to provide the perfect forum for Ross,” McCullum writes. “Wrighty had never done that for him — the only opportunities Ross got to talk to the team would be during emotional moments in games, when he’d start yelling and shouting.
“At these meetings, Mike would canvass everyone’s thoughts, and then try to hand it back to Ross to synthesise what was out there, tell us the way he wanted to go forward, put his stamp on it. All Ross had to say was, ‘Thanks lads, that’s awesome and this is the direction we’re going based on your thoughts. I’m the skipper, this is what we’re doing and I need you all to buy into it.’
“Ross would say nothing. Not a word. What the hell was he thinking? I had no idea.
“Ross is a reasonably trusting guy in most circumstances, so someone must have been telling him to watch his back. Whatever, he put the shutters up against Hesson. A quiet guy at the best of times, going further into his shell didn’t help — he’d surface with angry outbursts, instead of a coherent plan.”
Brendon McCullum writes that Ross Taylor did not speak in team meetings, despite Mike Hesson’s efforts to facilitate such interaction © Associated Press
Matters only got worse as New Zealand spiralled from one bad performance to another. They finished last in the Super Eights of the World T20 in Sri Lanka, and stayed back for a Test series where they were expected to lose again. McCullum writes he and a lot of his team-mates became frustrated over the lack of leadership. He says Taylor’s “outside” support group seems to have told him all he needed to stay on as captain was to score runs, and that that was all Taylor focused on. He says many a player asked him to speak to Taylor because they felt they couldn’t approach the captain directly, but he stayed away from doing so because he didn’t want Taylor to feel his players were ganging up on him.
“I got caught in the middle of the situation of a captain who wouldn’t talk to his coach or his team,” McCullum writes. “I was keeping my powder dry in the team environment, trying to be the supportive vice-captain, but behind the scenes I became increasingly frustrated as I watched the Black Caps spiral downwards.”
McCullum says that in Sri Lanka he released his frustration by running from the Galle stadium to the team hotel, and by unloading on Kerry Schwalger, his personal mental-conditioning coach, through long emails, knowing the correspondence between them would remain confidential.
With Buchanan flying in just before the first Test, a meeting that Hesson called for everyone in the team to put his thoughts on the table seemed to McCullum like one final effort from Hesson. McCullum felt Hesson would get the sack after the series because “the media and public were behind Ross”. McCullum says a frustrated Hesson had told him on a couple of occasions that he would like his captain to speak at team meetings, to take charge of the team. It didn’t happen in this meeting either. New Zealand went on to lose the Galle Test by 10 wickets.
“The atmosphere in the changing room after that loss at Galle was awful, and I picked up on a fair bit of animosity towards Ross,” McCullum writes. “The team was finally imploding. I decided things had gone far enough and asked Ross to come into the dunnies out the back with me.
“I said to him, ‘This is your effin’ team, mate. You need to grab it by the scruff of the neck and I will help you along the way, otherwise we’re going to lose our way completely.'”
McCullum writes he didn’t know Taylor had been told before the start of the Test that Buchanan and Hesson were going to recommend to NZC after the tour that Taylor be relieved of the captaincy.
It wasn’t clear, McCullum writes, at that moment if Taylor was being sacked as captain of all three international teams. When they got home, McCullum received a call, on his father’s birthday, offering him captaincy of the limited-overs teams. McCullum feels it is possible the powers had changed their minds partially after Taylor’s rousing performance in the second Test – 142 and 74 – helped to level the series in Sri Lanka.
McCullum writes that he asked for time to decide. He was still mulling over his mentor Stephen Fleming’s advice not to take the captaincy – “Why would you do it? Don’t do it. You don’t need it” – when he received another call from NZC informing him that Taylor had refused to carry on as Test captain. Now the leadership of all three teams was there for the taking. McCullum writes he had only two options: take the job or retire.
“I was carrying too much baggage now to hang around if someone else was captaining the side. Ross was always going to carry on, and the new captain could do without having me there too.”
The problems, McCullum feels, began with the public selection process. McCullum was originally told in 2011 that the selection panel would be Wright, Mark Greatbatch, Buchanan and Justin Vaughan. McCullum went into the interview not trusting Wright, knowing of the connection between Greatbatch and Taylor from their Wairarapa days, knowing Buchanan was hard to read, and shocked by Vaughan’s absence on the interview panel. McCullum left feeling he had been set up to fail. “Within days of the public announcement of Ross’s captaincy, Greatbatch was a guest at Ross’s wedding,” McCullum writes. “That would have been a long, awkward day for Greatbatch had his panel appointed me captain!
“And the fact that I hadn’t been astute enough to work out that applying for the captaincy wasn’t the right thing to do — and, worse, I’d willingly engaged in that process — proved I wasn’t ready for it. But neither was Ross. He’d made the same mistake. He was younger than me and, I believe, no more ready for the captaincy than I was. And he was just as compromised by New Zealand Cricket’s decision to have a public selection process. What happened next made us both a lot wiser — and certainly older — but it gouged a rift between us that will probably never heal.”
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo