New Zealand’s resurgence in the international cricket circuit has been one of the most remarkable tales of late. From sailing into the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 to reaching the semi-finals of the recently concluded ICC World T20 in India, the Black Caps have made significant impact in whatever assignments that have come their way.
Yet, cynics might argue that New Zealand has historically been a ‘force to reckon with’ in ICC tournaments but fail to emulate the same when they play bilateral series’, especially in the longest format of the game. However, Brendon McCullum’sefforts to break away from the conventional perceptions about New Zealand cricket have helped his compatriots achieve a distinct entity at the international level – a story which needs no further elucidation. One person who has been a witness to his team’s inspiring upsurge in recent times is Colin Munro. The 29-year old left-handed batsman from Auckland has been entrusted with the all-important number 3 slot in the Kiwi batting line-up post McCullum’s international retirement. Hence, it doesn’t come as a surprise that he is being looked upon as the next ‘Baz’ in line. Born in Durban, Munro migrated to Auckland at the age of fifteen since his parents wanted to ensure a more secure future for their four sons. Young Colin gradually rose through the ranks, making it to the New Zealand Under-19 squad in 2006 and breaking into Auckland’s First Class team the same season.Even though he enjoyed a good reputation as a belligerent hitter in New Zealand’s domestic circuit, the 5 feet 10 inch tall medium pace bowling all-rounder could never feature regularly in the state side. Awarded with a place in the national side in 2012, inconsistency seeped into his international career too. Until the later part of 2015, Munro’s prominence largely rested on his signature shot; the switch-hit. Then, a startlingdisplay in the Georgie Smash T20 Cup earlier this year where he belted 366 runs in 10 games and topped the batting charts marked his resurrection. His string of impressive performances caught the eye of the Kolkata Knight Riders management who acquired him forRs. 50 lakh at the IPL auction.He will also be representing the Trinbago Knight Riders (a team under the Knight Riders umbrella) in the CPL later this year. Despite, going through several ups and downs in his career, nothing could ruffle his feathers. Cric Fit correspondent RitamBasu recently caught up with the Kiwi all-rounder at the Pan Asian Restaurant on the premises of ITC Sonar Bangla where he opened up about his childhood in South Africa, his ambitions of being a permanent feature in the New Zealand Test side, his association with Kolkata Knight Riders, the rise of New Zealand cricket and his trademark switch hit shot. He also got a taste of our very popular rapid fire round.
Q: How did cricket begin for you?
Munro: Pretty much like everyone else I suppose. I started playing the game with my older brothers in our backyard. We lived opposite school. In my childhood, we lived in Maidstone, a village where children would play cricket after school hours and that’s how it all started.
Q: You were born in Durban. What made you move to New Zealand at the tender age of fifteen?
Munro: My parents made that decision. They wanted to leave South Africa and migrate to New Zealand in search of better opportunities. So they wandered over to New Zealand with me and my three older brothers. I would take the opportunity to thank them because I am not too sure whether I would have been able to play cricket at this level had we continued to live in South Africa.
Q: Tell us something about the switch-hit. How did you cultivate the shot?
Munro: Ummm (Thinks for a while and continues), by chance really. I came from Adelaide and was trying to cement my place in the Auckland team two or three years ago. We were playing on a used wicket in a trial game and I just couldn’t get the off-spinner away. So I casually tried to turn around and hit the ball and it came off pretty well. My hockey background to some extent helped me competently execute the shot. Majority of players who play the switch-hit or reverse sweep have had strong hockey backgrounds in the past.
Q: Have you modelled the switch-hit on Kevin Pietersen?After all, he is believed to be the initiator of the shot in international cricket.
Munro: I have obviously seen him play the shot on Television but I reckon he (Pietersen) stands a little bit taller and follows an orthodox approach regarding his hitting areas. He hits a six every time he executes the shot!
Q: We know that Jacques Kallis is your role model and now you are training under him at KKR. It must have been a satisfying experience for you.
Munro: (Responds with a glint in his eyes)Yeah, in my opinion he was the world’s best cricketer of his generation. He could bat, bowl, field and do what not? I played against him in the 2012 edition of the Champions League T20 at Hyderabad and also in the lone Test of my career when we squared off against South Africa at Eden Park in 2013. Initially, it was a bit difficult to get over his aura but he is like any other human being; very down to earth and always prepared to help others out.
Q: How has it been to embrace the all-important number 3 slot in the Kiwi batting line-up in limited overs cricket?
Munro: Ah! It gives me ample freedom. I no longer have to go in at number 7 as the last recognized batsman; a position where all the pressure is on you to pile up runs at a quick pace. At 3, you get to face a lot more deliveries; which enables you to build an innings and score 70-75 odd runs more often than not. Hence, when you bat one down and you know you have guys behind you, you can play your natural game and express yourself on the field. That is what I looked to do throughout the summer and during the World T20.
Q: How has New Zealand been progressing under Kane Williamson?
Munro: So far it has been amazing. Obviously, Baz (Brendon McCullum) added his own flavour to the job of captaincy and everyone cherished playing under him. Kane has learnt a lot from Baz and he has added his own zest to the role. Everyone in the team is excited about the prospects of New Zealand cricket and hopefully we can carry on with what Baz has installed in the set-up in the last three or four years.
Q: Since you have talked about Baz, let me ask you. Do you think Brendon McCullum retired a bit too early, especially when the World T20 was around the corner?
Munro: If you ask any Kiwi, he/she would say he retired a year or two early. However it’s a personal decision and what’s more important to remember is the fact that he has finished on a high and we are thankful for whatever he has done for New Zealand cricket. He has put New Zealand cricket back on the world map so to say. He is now busy playing T20 cricket around the world and enjoying himself which according to me is commendable.
Q: Martin Crowe passed away a few months ago. It must have created a huge void in the hearts of the New Zealanders.
Munro: Yes, indeed. He was a superstar as far as cricket in New Zealand is concerned. A lot of boys in our dressing room looked up to him and viewed him as a mentor. Everyone in New Zealand was mentally very disturbed after his demise.
Q: To whom would you credit the upsurge of the Black Caps in recent times?
Munro: I think it has to be Brendon McCullum. Yeah, hundred per cent. The way he looked after his players and went about his business was unparalleled.
Q: Did you people outline any blueprint before heading to India for the World T20? The way you fared against India at the Jamtha was spectacular.
Munro: We didn’t make any special plan as such. We played according to the conditions that were in offer. I think it was a bold move by the coach and the Captain to leave out Tim Southee and Trent Boult and draft three spinners into the playing eleven. Both Southee and Boult couldn’t make it to the team over the course of the tournament. It was tough but full marks to them for their never-say-die attitude. The spinners performed their duties proficiently. It thereby becomes imperative for everyone within a team to understand their individual roles and keep working towards their goals. Then when you get selected, you should be ready to fire on all cylinders on the field. Our journey in the tournament might have reached a conclusion in Delhi, but it was a big learning curve for the youngsters.
Q: You have an impressive record in First Class cricket with 2844 runs at an average of 48.20 to your name. Do you sometimes feel that you have been unfortunate to play just one Test in your career?
Munro: Well, I won’t say I have been very unfortunate but I would have loved to play more Test matches. The selectors know I am available and my record speaks for itself. Sometimes you get pigeonholed as a white-ball specialist but if you look at my strike rate in four-day cricket, it’s hovering around the 90 mark. People say you can’t play First Class cricket in that fashion becausethe general conjecture pertaining to red-ball cricket has been to leave the ball and bat for long hours. Frankly speaking, I don’t see any difference between scoring a hundred off 120 balls or a hundred off 200 balls. Sometimes I look at it as a progress in the game and that’s the way I play my cricket. Currently I am happy to play limited-overs cricket for New Zealand but I am focussed on establishing myself in the Test squad.
Q: Until 2012, you averaged round about 32 in four-day cricket which has now leaped to 48. So, what has helped you bolster your First Class record?
Munro: When I made my debut for Auckland I used to bat at number 10 and bowl first change. So, I didn’t get to enough opportunities to bat in the initial stages. Then I took some time off from the game and returned to the circuit after a year. I went to Adelaide for six months and when I came back, I was lucky enough to earn a call-up into New Zealand and get selected for Auckland’s first team. I scored a hundred in the first game that season. I think when a batsman scores a hundred more than once in his career; he formulates an approach to get to the landmark. I have been keeping things simple and having a supporting family helps on that front.
Q: You were the top run-getter in the Georgie Pie T20 Smash competition this season. What was your success recipe for such an astounding display?
Munro: Going up the order helped me. I was batting at 5 or 6 a couple of years ago but the number 3 slot was vacant prior to the commencement of the season and I was pushed up the order. This year, I haven’t premeditated too much. In the past, when I would get a 30 off 20 balls, I would straightway go for big hits which I want to avoid altogether hereon. It sometimes comes off whereas in other instances it seems ugly. So, I have been trying to bat sensibly and not bully the bowlers from the onset which has worked in my favour.
Q: Let’s now talk about the big one- the 50 off 14 balls which you scored against Sri Lanka at Eden Park this year. You nearly broke Yuvraj Singh’s record in terms of the fastest fifty in T20Is. Did you have that record in your mind en route to the milestone?
Munro: I didn’t even know how many balls I had faced to be honest (Grins). I just went out there and played to my instincts. It was the game where (Martin) Guptill broke the New Zealand record first and everyone was ecstatic with his knock.Later, I walked to the middle and clubbed my second ball for a six following which I told myself, ‘’You know what? Let me go out there and play my natural game. That’s what my role in the team is’’. I played hard and was fortunate to get the deliveries in my hitting zones. I smacked a six off the last ball to get to my fifty. It was one of those days where everything I did panned out well and was able to middle every ball.
(For the sake of statistics, New Zealand successfully chased down a target of 143 in 10 overs; courtesy of Martin Guptill, who brought up his fifty in 19 balls and Munro who remained unbeaten on 50 off 14 balls).
Q: Do you intend to leapfrog Yuvraj’s record in the future?
Munro: Yeah (Responds in a tone of enthralment), I would love to. Those sorts of innings come once in your lifetime you know. I am happy to be the second fastest player to get a fifty n T20Is. But, if I can get there, it will be exceptional. In fact, I would like to see any player bring up a fifty off 11 balls. It would be a great treat for spectators.
Q: Have the sluggish surfaces in India been a bit challenging?
Munro: Yeah, the conditions here in India are trying circumstances as far as the strike rates of overseas players like me are concerned. I think it’s about readjusting your goals when you come to India. It’s not easy to fire straightway for a newcomer, who hasn’t played on these surfaces before. The strike rate obviously depends on where you bat in the order. In order to have a hefty strike rate, you need to bat within the powerplay overs or else, if you are like those boys from the West Indies, you could probably come at number 6or 7 and go bang-boom from the very start of your innings. They hit boundaries for fun. Thus, if you are striking at 120 or 130 over here, it’s absolutely fine.
Q: OK. So what kind of adjustments could a batsman make regarding stance or guard while playing on these wickets?
Munro: You can open up a little, maybe stand nearer to the crease depending on whether the ball is turning. You also need to rotate the strike well because sometimes when you get tied down at one end the nerves can to get to you. Sometimes you may unnecessarily go for the big shot in a bid to take off some pressure but may end up losing your wicket instead.So, when a batsman rotates the strike with his partner, he doesn’t let the pressure creep in and when a bad delivery comes, he can hit it to the fence.
Q: Your T20I career strike rate is somewhere around the 145 mark. But in the recently concluded World T20 it dropped down to 100. Did the spin-friendly conditions in India result in a fall of your strike rate?
Munro: Definitely. Our bowling attack won us matches but our batting line-up did reasonably well too. When you score 120 odd runs against India in India and bundle them out for 79, you would say to yourself that you have done a good job. So the strike rate didn’t matter too much in that game and 100 was a good strike rate to have in such situations. Then in the next game we got Australia out for 130 odd (134). If you are batting at 3 and striking at 100 in India, you are actually building an innings like I did against Bangladesh. I was 12 off 20 balls at one stage and later hit a couple of boundaries off Mahmudullah which enabled me to strike at 115 or 120 and set up the game really well.
Q: OK. Colin, you must be aware of the fact that people hail you as the next Brendon McCullum back home. Corey Anderson in fact, called you ‘a hell of a player’ after your World T20 warm up match against Sri Lanka in Mumbai. How do you look at these praises lavished on you?
Munro: It was very kind of them really. Everybody wants to perform well for his/her country at the highest level albeit international cricket. But the kind of uncertainties the T20 game offers, it is always not going to happen. And talking about Brendon, I think nobody is ever going to be the next Brendon McCullum for the way he played his cricket. I have been asked this question many times since I first went to bat at 3 for New Zealand. You can’t fill Baz’ boots. They are really big boots to fill.
Q: Colin, let’s play the rapid fire round now.
Q: Your nickname.
Q: Your favourite cuisine.
Q: Your favourite holiday destination.
Q: Your favourite stadium.
Munro: Eden Park, Auckland.
Q: Your favourite movie.
Munro: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.
Q: Your favourite actor.
Munro: Adam Sandler.
Q: Your favourite actress.
Munro: Sandra Bullock.
Q: Imagine that you have been given two options. One, you have to score 17 runs off the final over in a T20 game and second, you have to defend 9 runs off the final over. Which one do you think you could accomplish more effectively?
Munro: Score 17 off the final over because I wouldn’t back my yorkers (Guffaws)!
Q: Who are your best buddies in the KKR dressing room?
Munro: Morne Morkel, Shakib-Al-Hasan and Chris Lynn.
Q: One song that you play most frequently on your iPod?
Munro: Adele’s ‘’Someone Like You’’.
Q: What has impressed you the most about Kolkata?
Munro: The nature of people here. They are very courteous.
Q: Any interesting anecdote about the KKR dressing room?
Munro: Not really. Hoggy (Brad Hogg) is very funny.
Q: Your hobbies.
Munro: Playing golf.
Q: You will also be playing for the Trinbago Knight Riders in the CPL later this year. Since the management at TKR will be the same as here in KKR, do you think it will make you a lot more comfortable?
Munro: Yeah, I think so. I don’t have to introduce myself to the support staff from scratch. It’s pretty much like a family in Kolkata Knight Riders. So, that will probably help as I can be a bit more relaxed at TKR.
Q: Alright. The last question. New Zealand has had a wonderful run of form of late. What should be the ideal roadmap for the Kiwis hereon under Mike Hesson’s coaching and Kane Williamson’s captaincy?
Munro: We want to attain the number-one status in all formats. It has been our goal from the time I started at batting at number 3. Hopefully, we can achieve that in the next five years or so..