By Kishan Vaghela
It’s as if Brendon McCullum had saved the pièce de résistance of his career until his final ever international match. With New Zealand on the verge of collapse at 32 for three against Australia at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch, the 34-year-old scored the fastest Test century ever off just 54 balls. Beating the previous record of 56 balls, jointly held by Sir Vivian Richards and Misbah-ul-Haq, McCullum’s farewell Test match almost condensed not only what he represented on the field, but also his general mannerisms off it, into one game.
With his side in such a perilous position so early on into the first day, very few players in world cricket would have pursued the tactics the Kiwi used to combat the threat posed by Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Marsh. That’s not to say other batsmen would not have looked to be positive, but rather they would not have looked to counter Hazlewood, who himself was bowling beautifully, so soon after coming to the crease.
Yet such an attribute seems to be inherent in McCullum’s style of play. Sometimes the relentless belligerence failed spectacularly, such as in the World Cup final last year against the same opposition, an innings that lasted just three balls. Yet that never proved to be a deterrent, but rather an inspiration and an additional drive for the former New Zealand captain.
“I was trying to hit every ball for four or six”. These were the words he chose to use to describe his gameplan in Christchurch, words that are non-identical to the ones he used to describe his fleeting World Cup final innings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In an interview with former England opener Nick Knight for Sky Sports, he claimed he couldn’t remember what was going through his head before he was bowled by Mitchell Starc, only that he forgot to tell himself to watch the ball.
Contrasting statements for sure, but be in no doubt about his style, because he only ever knew one way.
At the Hagley Oval, five years after the Christchurch earthquake, McCullum produced a different kind of devastation that would have this time been welcomed by Kiwis across the country. His first shot went over the slip cordon, but having settled and found his rhythm, he smashed a Marsh over for 21 runs, including two sixes.
No surprise then, that he also broke the record for the most number of sixes in Test matches in the same match, overtaking Australian wicketkeeping legend Adam Gilchrist’s record of 100 to reach 107 sixes.
However, to simply suggest that we only saw the real Brendon McCullum with bat in hand would be an insult to his modern methods as captain. Comparable to India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it was always the weird and wonderful fields that used to yield results.
Cricketers and management staff alike nowadays seem obsessed with one particular aspect of the game; to establish a ‘brand of cricket’ to play, within the camp. McCullum certainly brought that concept to the fore, no more apparent than in the last year’s World Cup and the incredible One Day International series against England later on in 2015. Proactive, vibrant and intuitive, his success as captain didn’t solely occur out in the middle.
He managed to alter the perceptions of the cricketing world, no longer was this a New Zealand side who would be bullied into becoming the eternal underdogs, no longer the side to be punching above their weight.
Despite Stephen Fleming’s prodigious career, Brendon McCullum has undoubtedly increased the hype surrounding the Black Caps, similar to what Dhoni has done after the momentous leadership of Sourav Ganguly a few years previous. A leader of men, McCullum had to cope with the pressure of being one of the few experienced players following the retirement of stalwarts such as Daniel Vettori.
However, he managed to create a new batting core alongside Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill. With the ball, he oversaw the period in which Tim Southee and Trent Boult gained international reputation.
McCullum appears to be someone who regrets very little with his simplistic views, stating after his penultimate Test match innings that “We decided the best form of defence was for us to try and attack. It’s not always going to come off but I guess today we got a little bit of luck”. Quite simply, concise and striking. However, having developed this style of cricket for his nation, cricket fans, and surely McCullum himself, will always bemoan the unfortunate situation that it was never truly fulfilled with a title.
Whether it be the latest 50-over World Cup final or the 2009 Champions Trophy final in Centurion, against, yet again, Australia, they always fell short. What a dishonour it would be though, were his travails to be forgotten due to a mere lack of silverware.
The only player to have scored two Twenty20 International centuries. The first New Zealand batsman to score a triple century. The first New Zealand captain to lead his team to the World Cup final. For a man who has nurtured various talents, let us hope his are never forgotten.
Photograph: Ben Sutherland via Wikimedia Commons