As a politician one of the most common topics I get asked to talk about is leadership. Not party leadership (though that used to come up a fair bit!) but the principles of leadership. What makes a good leader, what makes a great leader. There are lots of words I use in those talks – courage, vision, inspiration, tenacity. And two more of late. Brendon McCullum.
As Brendon McCullum starts his 100th and second-to-last test and the cricketing eulogies mount, it’s his leadership I think about. His ascendancy to the job caused huge drama – and began in the worst possible way as the Black Caps crumbled to 45 all out in the Newlands sunshine. It could have defined him, but it didn’t.
My mind goes to a night in November 2014, as I lay in bed about to watch the Black Caps play Pakistan. Or not. The cricketing world was reeling from the horrific death of Philip Hughes. There was real doubt that the test being played in Sharjah would continue. It would have been understandable if it had not, and in fact it was pretty clear the New Zealanders at least did not want it to. But the ICC show must go on – and what a show it turned out to be. In a surreal, spectacular, brutal display Brendon McCullum clubbed his way to a double hundred.
It was powerful and emotional. There was all of his array of hooks, pulls and dances down the wicket, but all done with a higher purpose in mind. It was a tribute – to Philip Hughes, and to cricket. Played as simply and freely as Brendon McCullum would have done so many times in the backyard in South Dunedin with his brother Nathan. But it was also much more than that – it was leadership. A team grieving for one of their fraternity, looking for something or someone to hold onto, found it in Baz that day.
The Cricket World Cup showcased Baz's leadership to the world, and he revelled in it. Like perhaps no other New Zealander cricketer of my lifetime, he believed he could win every time he walked onto the field. He’s a gambler (on and off the field) and that shows sometimes, but the success he has had owes much more to the belief he has in the people around him. I was once told that the best sign of leadership is understanding what the people around you are better at than you are. I think Baz gets that.
I have watched a lot of cricket in my life (and I mean a lot) and I have seen New Zealand teams who not only looked like 11 individuals, but looked like they would cheerfully never be in the same room as each other ever again. This team is the opposite, and you can not fake that.
One hundred tests in a row, the first NZ test cricketer to score a triple hundred, the record holder for sixes in ODIs (and very soon in tests) and proud son of South Dunedin. Thanks, Brendon McCullum, leader.