New Zealand’s captain Brendon McCullum is unsure how much the ongoing perjury trial of Chris Cairns will distract him as he sets about leading his country in what shapes as their best chance to unseat Australia at home in 30 years.
McCullum missed the New Zealand players’ only chance for a first-class fixture at home before reaching Australia as he was called as a prosecution witness at Southwark Crown Court in London and gave evidence of Cairns’ alleged spot-fixing approaches to him in 2008 – conversations that he did not report to the ICC for some years.
As part of a modified preparation as a result of his travel schedule, McCullum will not take part in the tour opening fixture against the Prime Minister’s XI on Friday, but will instead wait until the two-day practice match starting on Saturday to play his first cricket since the court appearance. He is hopeful that the case and its wide ramifications for the game will not cloud his thinking against Australia.
“I hope so,” McCullum said when asked whether the case could be put to the back of his mind. “I had a job to do over there, but now I’m back here and very much focused on this series, three Tests is going to be a huge opportunity for us and a massive challenge as well.
“It’s just nice to be around the boys again. I missed that first-class game back home so it’s good to get back into the nets. To a degree it has [been a distraction], but it had to be done and now I’m very much just focused on this tour, it’s a huge challenge for us as a team and a new stage in Australian cricket as well. It should be a cracking series.”
In a departure from recent norms, the PM’sXI match will be less a festival match than a legitimate proving ground, both for the New Zealand side freshly landed in Australia and a host of locals eager to press their cases for Test selection next month. McCullum said New Zealand would benefit from an early sight of the likes of Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Joe Burns, Adam Voges and Peter Siddle before the Tests as they formulated plans to try to win a Test series down under for the first time since 1985.
“It’s going to be good, and for those guys as well they probably haven’t had the volume of cricket they would have wanted,” McCullum said. “So it’s probably a smart move from the Australian selectors as well to include them in this game and it’s going to be good for us as well to have another competitive hit-out leading into the series.
“It’s going to give us a good preparation. Obviously I’m not playing tomorrow and Timmy [Southee] will have the stripes and I’m sure he’ll do an excellent job. So we’ll probably be able to get a little bit more information as well about some of these guys that we haven’t seen as much of as some of the other guys in the team.”
Unlike most meetings between the two teams over the past decade – of which there have been precious few since 2010 – it will be New Zealand that have the more settled team going into the Tests. While acknowledging that as a strength, McCullum said he also knew that change could have positive effect on a team, as highly motivated individuals entered the dressing room.
“It can make a team more dangerous as well because change can often galvanise a unit,” McCullum said. “We’re very much aware of that and we’ve got to make sure we execute what works for us and if we can maybe create some opportunities to go on and win the series that would be great. But we know it’s not going to be easy.
“We’ve got a good team, we’ve played well over the last seven or eight Test series but Australia in Australia are a very difficult team to play against. Yes they’ve got some changes and they’ve got some new personnel, but they’re also a very, very proud sporting nation and their cricket team has been successful for over two decades now so for us to come here and succeed we’re going to have to play extremely well.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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