MELBOURNE // Given the other distractions at hand, the fact the Dubai World Cup was on this weekend may have bypassed Brendon McCullum.
It would not usually have done. New Zealand’s cricket captain is an avid fan of horse racing, and even owns his own bloodstock company.
When the Black Caps toured the UAE recently, he had planned a team night out at Meydan, only for it to fall through because the Dubai Test against Pakistan was delicately poised at the time.
And even though he is just about to be a central protagonist in the biggest cricket match in his country’s history, he has still found time for the races.
“I went to Moonee Valley [on Friday night], and managed to watch some horses,” McCullum said on the eve of the World Cup final against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
“That was good fun. We got entertained there and it was great to get to relax leading into such a big game.”
If New Zealand’s cricketers are overawed by the challenge they about to face, they are not showing it.
Australia, the world’s No 1 ranked side, the country who have won the World Cup more times than anyone else, on their own patch, with the best part of 100,000 people watching in person, and millions more on the television.
Daunting? Exciting, more like, according to McCullum, who deems it the “ultimate game”.
“A hundred thousand people in Australia’s backyard, Melbourne Cricket Ground and the history and traditions and against a very good Australian side,” he said.
“It’s been a great ride so far. This is the ultimate game for us to be able to play in.
“So with that I’m sure some guys will be nervous tomorrow morning. I guess there is some excitement about us going out there tomorrow and putting our skills against the best in their backyard.
“That certainly whets the appetite and creates the greatest stage we can ask for. So it’s certainly going to be a special day.”
It is a tough assignment, definitely, but McCullum has an impenetrable can-do attitude.
In a throwaway comment on a different topic this week, he used the phrase “nothing is too difficult”.
It turned out that was actually in reference to a game of golf he was trying to organise.
Fitting nine players into two tee-times, it seems, was providing more of a headache than the boundaries at the MCG.
The dimensions of this stadium, and the fact New Zealand rarely play at such big grounds, has been much talked about in the build up to this match.
McCullum pointed to the fact they have recently played at the Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, in the series against Pakistan, as reason to believe they can cope with the extra range of hitting.
“If you look at Abu Dhabi in the emirates, that’s a big ground as well,” he said.
“Obviously it doesn’t have the same amphitheatre the MCG presents, but I think boundary size it’s bigger.
“But in this day and age with bigger bats as well it still brings into play the fours and sixes.
“So we’ll adapt accordingly. It’s something that we’ll relish, I think.”
The idea there will be a partisan crowd, barking raucous support for the home time may also be wide of the mark, too.
While McCullum and Michel Clarke, his opposite number, were giving their obligatory pre-match press conferences, there were hundreds of Indians outside the ground.
Many are said to have bought up tickets in advance of the final, on the assumption MS Dhoni’s side would be there.
Plenty were queuing for New Zealand shirts at the merchandising stalls on the concourse outside the stadium, and McCullum is expecting some borrowed support.
“I reckon we might have the home crowd,” the captain said.
“I think it’s probably no secret most of the other teams around the world would probably prefer New Zealand to win.
“So hopefully we’ll get a good smattering of support tomorrow, and I’m sure the Indian guys will certainly be rooting for us.”
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