Grant Elliott: New Zealand is in a good space

Grant Elliott, the New Zealand allrounder, has attributed his success for his team to 'good environment' and great leadership', and believes Brendon McCullum retired early as he believed he could leave the team in a good space.

Grant Elliott: 'I never want to leave playing in that environment'.   -  AP

Grant Elliott lifts Dale Steyn after scoring the winning runs in a thrilling semifinal at the 2015 World Cup.   -  Getty Images

What’s tougher: being humble in victory or gracious in defeat? Take your pick.

Soon after smashing Dale Steyn for a match-winning six in the semifinal of the ICC World Cup last year, Grant Elliott made it a point to lend a helping hand to his disconsolate and defeated rival. The gesture won him the ‘Sports Moment of the Year’ at the Halberg Awards, named after the legendary middle-distance runner and Olympic champion Sir Murray Halberg, and aimed at honouring and celebrating sporting excellence in New Zealand. Needless to say, it captured the very essence of the noble but oft-hyped and oft-misunderstood concept of ‘spirit of cricket’.

Less than a year after that career-defining 84 not out in Auckland, Elliott remains as calm as ever. No sooner than he occupied his chair in The Gulmohar Room at the pristine, sea-facing Trident hotel here on Tuesday, the 36-year-old tried to pull a fast one on the media by attempting to ‘stop’ the recorders placed in front of him. A chuckle or two later, he was certain that he had our attention.

Less than a couple of weeks before his 37th birthday, did he ever expect to play in this tournament? “No, never,” came the reply. “I have been enjoying my cricket. As long as I do, I’d keep playing. We have had a really good time. We have been very successful under Brendon (McCullum). And for all those who think Brendon quit too early, I’d say he did so because he believed he could leave this team in a good space,” Elliott explains.

The South Africa-born Elliott is clearly enjoying the joys of spring in the autumn of his career. He credits his success to a “good environment” and “great leadership”.

'Good environment'

“I thrive in a good environment. The leadership we have had is great. I never want to leave playing in that environment. The guys (are so happy that they) want to give back to the team, give back to the country. New Zealand cricket is in a good space,” he says.

Packed with match-winners, the New Zealand squad enters the tournament as a dangerous contender. Lest we forget, the Kiwis are considered perennial bridesmaids when it comes to world events. But Elliott wouldn’t have any of it. While he reminds us that winning is the “main goal”, you can’t take your eyes off “what’s in front of you”.

“The results will take care of themselves. It’s out of your control. Yes, you can’t go in hoping you’ll come third or fourth. We have match-winners and if they perform, we can go all the way. The one-day World Cup was great because we made the final. Thanks to that performance, cricket has grown by 20 per cent in terms of registration from the youth. If you can inspire youth and inspire kids and show them how to behave in a certain manner on and off the field, (then you have done your job).”

Young moves

For someone who got sick of his father’s surgery books, Elliott is happy he didn’t take up medicine as a vocation. But he has no answer to the problem of greying he is now encountering. “That’s because of the stress from all the youngsters in the team,” he laughs. “I have a four-and-a-half-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old at home. They are easier to look after than these guys.” Another round of chuckles. “I enjoy it. I love to watch careers evolve. As soon as I feel too old, I’ll be gone,” he says. Will he stay on for another three years? “I’ll be 39 by then. Let’s take it month by month!”

Sachin Tendulkar often spoke of the generation gap in the Indian dressing room. Elliott, who plied his trade in South Africa before moving to New Zealand in 2001, has seen many a youngster blossom. “Getting used to the music is a challenge. These guys love CoCo (by the American rapper OT Genasis). I can’t mention some of the other songs because of the rude words in them. But I do the odd dance to show them I have some young moves. I am talking about nappies and kids and these guys are talking about places to go out. They keep me young. They keep me on my toes,” he says.

A word on Martin Guptill, New Zealand’s ‘Mr Prolific’. “He is a very quiet guy. But his recent performances are a result of hard work and experience. He has played in a lot of different conditions. Life is like a puzzle. You put in the pieces. And, as the years go by, you get a complete puzzle and, then, you keep enjoying. Martin’s success is indicative of a very good environment in our team,” he says.