Cricket: Injury points up weak spot

By Andrew Alderson

The New Zealand Cricket selectors' decision to take just one wicketkeeper to the World Cup has left Brendon McCullum at risk of failing to perform to his best in the knock-out matches.

McCullum tore cartilage in his right knee during the 10-wicket win over Zimbabwe. He has endured with the aid of a brace and anti-inflammatory drugs (he calls them "lollies") but struggles to hide the pain.

He could only hobble to the dressing room after fronting the media conference following his man-of-the-match century against Canada.

The situation leaves the team vulnerable heading into the knock-out phase, especially if McCullum's injury worsens.

The decision to omit back-up gloveman Peter McGlashan and take Jamie How now threatens New Zealand's semifinal chances. Hindsight can be an unfair science but the selection was criticised at the time and McGlashan could have kept against Canada; giving McCullum extra recovery time.

The move has also made redundant the decision to take Luke Woodcock as a back-up left-arm orthodox spin option to Daniel Vettori. He was not used in the skipper's absence against Canada or Sri Lanka.

McCullum is not one to make excuses and has brushed aside talk the injury could sideline him from the World Cup or the Indian Premier League next month.

He has also stressed he is about playing for New Zealand first and his new Kochi IPL franchise second, despite his US$475,000 contract.

"I hate the fact this sort of stuff can be used as an excuse. The stars are never going to be fully aligned each time you play," he says.

"Understand this: it is a World Cup. If it was a bilateral series then maybe you'd have a few games off but this comes around every four years, so players need to get over it and work through injuries.

"There are plenty of people with worse problems and issues than mine."

Surgery is a likely option later - McCullum had dead cartilage and bone removed from his left knee last year - but he is only likely to relinquish the gloves under the direst circumstances.

"The knee's stiff and sore, meaning I've got to take it easy at training. I'm confident I can get through the tournament."

Physiotherapy advice is to stay off the knee as much as possible until game day.

"That means no warm-up games at practice and restricting wicketkeeping and batting to a minimum.

"It [the knee] goes up and down," McCullum says as he edges his scar-ridden knees out from under the table in the glamorous Taj Mahal Hotel foyer. "It is sore after a game then the pain slowly eases off, meaning I can build up again."

Most fourth edition IPL contracts have clauses stating that if players are injured during the tournament, their salaries can be halved. McCullum is prepared to brave an IPL fitness test to prove he can manage the seven-week workload straight after the Cup. He says that is part of modern day cricket but warns the IPL organisers should expect some player fatigue.

"A lot of players will be in similar situations after such a long tournament, especially the intensity over the next couple of weeks. There will be plenty of tired guys and niggling injuries. I'll address that once the World Cup is finished."

McCULLUM ALSO faces a defining moment in his career at the end of the World Cup, with Daniel Vettori set to give up the captaincy and potentially retire from the 50-over format.

Much has been made of McCullum's contest with vice-captain Ross Taylor for one of the most sought-after roles in New Zealand sport.

Talk exists coach John Wright might try to convince Vettori to continue leading in tests but the successful candidate between McCullum and Taylor would still be significantly empowered from their current roles.

McCullum is reluctant to offer much on the issue with the real lobbying yet to begin, but he does consider himself in the running. If unsuccessful, he is unlikely to revert to being vice-captain having previously been shuffled sideways to wear the moniker "senior pro".

The selectors (who could be re-jigged post World Cup) and the newly-formed NZC cricket committee are likely to advise the NZC board who will make the final decision.

"It's a great job which we both aspire to do," McCullum says. "That will be dealt with after the World Cup. Ross has led the team well in Daniel's absence. He is an important team member and our senior batsman. I've also got a big role opening the batting and wicketkeeping.

"It is no time for self-gratification, worrying about our futures. That should not be entering our minds at the moment."

If appointed, McCullum is likely to have few problems working with Wright.

Wright has been known to appreciate maverick qualities; especially if they have a tendency to win cricket matches.

While he had little influence over the Indian leadership during his tenure, his persistence with Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag was notable. McCullum offers more of those qualities than Taylor's reliable conservatism in the field.

Talk of Wright causes McCullum to grin. He says doubts about Wright's coaching abilities in New Zealand Cricket circles might have been misplaced.

"He is very politically astute," McCullum says. "There seems to be a perception Wrighty is disorganised but I disagree. Things flow smoothly.

"He's brought clarity to our game plan.

"We can adjust our training and mindsets to judge against that now, rather than stabbing in the dark. He's empowered players to play their best games by expressing themselves. He's also brought a bit of humour and old school banter.

"The message resonates a lot better with that. It relaxes the environment."

- Herald on Sunday

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