Cricket: Captaincy is Taylor-made

By Andrew Alderson

If the world cup is any gauge, Ross Taylor appears on the cusp of the New Zealand cricket captaincy ahead of Brendon McCullum, with Daniel Vettori all but confirming he will step down from the role in all formats.

Taylor made a strong case at the World Cup with the bat and as a dynamic in-fielder. He scored 250 runs and averaged 50 against the five test-playing nations compared to McCullum's 10.60.

McCullum battled a knee injury and could not be rested without a specialist back-up wicket-keeper in the squad, but runs did not come when they counted.

The NZC board is likely to make a decision in the next couple of months after earning some breathing space with the cancelled tour of Bangladesh. They will consult the selectors, who are expected to lean towards Taylor and the cricket advisory committee could do likewise.

The possibility of a split leadership - Taylor for tests and McCullum for one-dayers - has been raised but hardly sends a decisive message looking to the next four-year cycle.

Conservatism should feature prominently in the process, especially considering recent efforts to retain Vettori as test captain. He seemed less than convinced that was an option after the World Cup semifinal loss to Sri Lanka.

"Certainly a couple of people have asked me. There is six months until the next New Zealand game [against Zimbabwe]," Vetorri said.

"I would say I'm 99.9 per cent sure I won't captain the team again ... but you never know."

The leadership might be a catalyst for McCullum to drive his own form so he leaves a legacy befitting his ability. But is it worth the risk? Given the status quo, he is unlikely to get the chance. All clues point to Taylor.

Coach John Wright has made it known he'd take a strong competitor as skipper over most other qualities. He has not pronounced a verdict on whether Taylor or McCullum should assume the mantle, but offered a telling observation.

"You've got to perform in a lead role as a coach, player or whatever. If you're not performing, people stop listening. Leadership is performance."

Taylor performs when he leads. His ODI average of 44.20 in 10 completed matches as captain compared to 35.79 when he is not. He has won four and lost six. His 131 not out against Pakistan - which included 55 runs from his last 13 balls after a couple of early chances - was a match-winner, reinvigorating the New Zealanders' belief in their ability. He tempered that with captain's knocks at less than a run-a-ball against Sri Lanka (twice) and South Africa, helping to build competitive totals.

McCullum is better in front of the media, offering more insight on the intricacies of the game. He is a social man, too, who enjoys a beer and a chat about the minutiae of the game when the microphones are off.

Taylor, by contrast, was once known in jest to his Central Districts' teammates as "Tipper" for what he might do with his drinks on the odd occasion rather than consume them. But that is in the past. Taylor can be as engaging in conversation and has translated some of his warm, inclusive spirit into media copy at this tournament.

Both players will be disappointed if they do not receive the nod, but McCullum, at 29, has more to lose than Taylor (27) - this could be the last chance for McCullum to assume a role he has always coveted.

Yet there is unlikely to be any backlash with the result. McCullum already knows he is up against it and probably needs a change in the selection panel of Mark Greatbatch, Glenn Turner and Lance Cairns to win out.

The prospect of Vettori staying to play at least test matches should not be a hindrance either. The 32-year-old could well enjoy the role of senior pro again, offering advice and delivering performances without the extra responsibility.

If Taylor gets the job and McCullum, as expected, does not resume the vice-captaincy, it leaves another void. Vettori could do the job, but that isn't progressive. The trouble is no one in the next generation seems qualified. NZC may demand Vettori or McCullum fill the gap as Kane Williamson develops over coming years.

Williamson's maturity and hunger for the game point to him eventually being leader.

- Herald on Sunday

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