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Brendon McCullum on Ross Taylor captaincy stoush: 'The Coup that Wasn't'

By Dylan Cleaver

Brendon McCullum has described the manoeuvrings that saw him take over from the dumped Ross Taylor as national cricket captain as "The Coup that Wasn't".

The former wicketkeeper-batsman has peeled back the scab of the great captaincy debate in his book Declared, which is sure to reignite a feud between two of the country's greatest players.

McCullum writes that the cracks that were widening on the disastrous 2012 tour to the West Indies became rifts on the tours to India and Sri Lanka a short time later.

Part of the problem, he asserted, was Taylor's failure to embrace Hesson as coach.

"It seemed to me that right from the start, Ross was suspicious of Hess's motives. So instead of taking Hess on his merits, Ross seemed already closed to him."

McCullum was by now aware of the conspiracy talk: that his mate Stephen Fleming had instructed the selection panel to appoint his other mate Hesson and that Taylor would be jettisoned. The problem with that story was that McCullum wanted Matthew Mott, an Australian, as coach.

"It was clear that logic would play an ever-diminishing role," McCullum wrote.

Hesson would hold meetings on that tour, trying to get a sense of the direction the team wanted to go into and give Taylor a forum where he could stamp his brand on the team.

"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."

McCullum says for the first time he felt in a predicament. Senior players were coming to him to ask Taylor for more direction.

"I didn't want to be their messenger because I didn't want Ross to feel as if he was being ganged up on... if anything Hesson's appointment worsened that situation for me.

"I got caught in the middle of a situation of a captain who wouldn't talk to his coach or his team."

By this stage they had failed miserably at the World T20 champs in Sri Lanka and stayed on for a full tour. McCullum was at personal breaking point. He was finding it harder to separate his personal life from cricket life and needed an outlet.

Read more:
Brendon McCullum - Declared excerpt: McCullum was smoking in toilets during semifinal win
Brendon McCullum: Chris Cairns trial like 'Chinese water torture'
Brendon McCullum on Chris Cairns: I want nothing more to do with him

The Black Caps were a fully "dysfunctional family" and McCullum need to vent.

"You just can't do that without creating a lot of collateral [damage]. So you either bottle it up or release it somewhere else."

Enter "the eccentric" Kerry Schwalger. McCullum had hired him to be his mental conditioning coach, which included "neuro-imaging strategies".

The fact McCullum was rarely in Christchurch made it harder to communicate, but "Kerry had still done his best to keep me focused and believing in myself - mostly through over-the-top emails about my supernatural abilities, featuring a lot of exclamation marks. To be honest, some of it might have been laughable, but I still lapped it up."

In Sri Lanka, McCullum used Schwalger to vent his increasing frustrations.

"[I was] trying to vent clear my head and spleen of all the crap, so I could go out and play the next day without all this shitty fug holding me back."

McCullum thought he was safe to use Schwalger as a sounding-off board because they were confidential communications.

The tone of Schwalger's responses started to change. McCullum writes that Schwalger would start to impersonate him, using words he'd never use and "a sustained level of invective that's make your hair curl. It was outrageous and a bit disquieting to read 'myself' saying these things."

John Buchanan flew over for the first Sri Lanka test but McCullum says he read nothing into that. In a meeting before the first test Hesson again gave the senior players an opportunity to forge a direction and Kyle Mills took the opportunity to deliver a strong message.

"Ross said very little and seemed disengaged from it all," McCullum writes. "Maybe it was at this point Hesson lost faith in Ross. I'm not sure; Hesson wasn't confiding in me but he's not that hard to read. He's not overtly emotional, just gets a very serious look on his face and starts fiddling with his glasses. I could see that he was fed up with Ross. We were at the stage where something had to give."

McCullum claims that several players approached him after the meeting expressing their disappointment.

"That's putting it mildly. What they said was variations of 'Would someone just make an effin' decision!'," McCullum writes.

McCullum kept venting to Schwalger and humiliation in the first test seemed to confirm that the Black Caps had reached their nadir.

"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. 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.'

"Ross was standing leaning against the window. He had this expression on his face, again difficult to read. Again, he said nothing...

"To me it was one last try: we both knew that I'd be next in line. From my point of view, I wanted a clear conscience - I'd offer him my support if he was prepared to step up, but if he didn't, or couldn't, it wasn't on my head.

"Later, it transpired that the horse had already bolted."

Taylor had been told four days before the Galle test, in that infamous meeting between him Hesson, manager Mike Sandle and assistant Bob Carter that he be relieved of the captaincy. There is conjecture about whether it was for the short forms or everything, but Taylor understood it to be the lot.

The Black Caps, thanks largely to a magnificent century and half-century double from Taylor, won the second test.

The floodgates were about to open.

Captaincy saga timeline

2009: Brendon McCullum is dropped as vice-captain of the national team by coach Andy Moles.

2011: Ross Taylor is named as New Zealand captain in all three forms of the game, replacing Dan Vettori.

July 2012: Mike Hesson succeeds John Wright as national coach.

November 2012: During a tour of Sri Lanka, Hesson informs Taylor he will recommend leadership changes to NZ Cricket's board after the tour. He meant in white-ball cricket but he failed to convey that message clearly to Taylor.

December 2012: McCullum is named as the new national skipper in all three forms of the game. NZC say Taylor declined an offer to remain test captain. Amid fierce criticism of how it had handled the captaincy issue, NZC chairman Chris Moller apologises to Taylor but says no heads will roll over the affair.

March 2013: Former national captain John Parker reveals to Radio Sport that he and up to 40 other prominent past cricketers have prepared a dossier that proves Taylor was "done over" by McCullum, Hesson and NZC chief executive David White.

April 2013: McCullum says he will take legal action for defamation against Parker and others over their allegations. Parker apologises publicly and McCullum withdraws his legal action.

- NZ Herald

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