McCullum, Kiwis' multi-talented, muscular leader

MELBOURNE, March 28, 2015 (AFP) - When Brendon McCullum took over as captain of New Zealand in December 2014, the team was engulfed by dressing-room strife.

Now, just over two years later, the Black Caps are in their first World Cup final and the muscular, multi-skilled McCullum is being feted as a national hero.

The 33-year-old opener has sport in his blood.

In his schooldays, he was selected ahead of future All Blacks superstar Dan Carter in a regional rugby team but learned to love cricket hanging around the grounds of New Zealand while his father Stuart carved out a first-class career with Otago from the 1970s to 1990s.

Older brother Nathan is also a New Zealand Test and ODI player, although he is likely to be watching Sunday's final against Australia from the MCG sidelines as he has yet to be selected for a game at the World Cup.

Facing the Australians in front of around 90,000 people at the MCG will not daunt the skipper, who needed all his battling qualities when he assumed the leadership of the team in 2012.

He replaced Ross Taylor as captain but immediately had to deny any involvement in outsting his team-mate from a leadership role.

McCullum was a controversial choice as his country's 28th captain with his tough, tattooed exterior in marked contrast to the wholesome boy-next-door Taylor who, in protest at being dumped as skipper, immediately withdrew from the ensuing tour of South Africa.

McCullum was seen as the preferred choice of newly-installed coach Mike Hesson, who never publicly endorsed Taylor and referred to him as being a board appointment.

In an editorial at the time, the New Zealand Herald described New Zealand Cricket (NZC) as a rudderless ship and said "Taylor has become the latest poster-child for the high-performance dysfunction in our national summer game".

McCullum said suggestions he was involved in a coup and of a rift between himself and Taylor, was untrue.

"It cuts right to the bone, that people would question your integrity and your character like that," he said.

The controversy didn't affect McCullum's career too much.

To date he has made 5,870 runs in 92 Tests with a high score of 302 against India in February last year, the only Test triple century score by a New Zealander.

He is also brutal in the ODI format with 5,808 runs in 248 games and with a best score of 166.

At the ongoing World Cup, he hit an 18-ball 50 against England, the fourth time he has reached a ODI half-century in 20 balls or fewer.

Twenty20 is also in his headlights.

In the first match of the Indian Premier League in 2008, he hit 158 before becoming the second man, after West Indies' Chris Gayle, to score a Twenty20 international century against Australia in 2010.

As well as a flamboyant, pinch-hitting role at the top of the Black Caps order, McCullum has a flair for the personal touch.

On his right shoulder, he has childrens' birthdates tattooed in Roman numerals.

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