'The last 15-20 Tests an incredible part of my life'

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‘Dirty whites, sweaty black caps and a beer in hand’

From Mike Cowdrey back in 1968 to AB de Villiers in November last year, 63 men have reached the milestone of 100 Test appearances. None of those 63 has achieved what Brendon McCullum will achieve when he steps on to the Basin Reserve on Friday morning to take on the Australians: reaching 100 without missing a single Test. McCullum debuted against South Africa in March 2004, and has played every New Zealand Test since.

It should be noted that de Villiers would have been the first but for paternity leave last year, which prevented him from going on South Africa’s two-Test tour of Bangladesh and ended his run of consecutive Tests since debut at 98. That means McCullum’s accomplishment will be unique in all of Test cricket, and it will be a remarkable achievement of form, fitness and general cricketing longevity.

He has had to overcome back injuries, form slumps, the switch from keeping wicket to playing as a specialist batsman. He has taken on the responsibility of captaincy, and has with the help of coach Mike Hesson steered the team through one of its most successful periods: New Zealand have not lost a home Test series since early 2012, before McCullum and Hesson joined forces.

“The last 15 or 20 Tests have been an incredible part of my life, the changes that we’ve been able to make, the evolution of the environment and the performances we have started to put up,” McCullum said on the eve of his milestone. “You look back with a sense of pride in what you’ve been able to achieve with a group of guys.

“And to be able to play 100 straight Tests as well, I’m pretty proud about the longevity and being able to overcome not only injuries and but also the toughness of touring and the ups and downs of performance, and still being able to get back up off the canvas and still warrant place in team. That’s something I can look back on with a bit of pride.”

That it has taken 12 years for McCullum to reach his century, despite not missing a match, is testament to how little Test cricket New Zealand play compared to some other countries – of the top eight Test countries, only Pakistan have played fewer Tests in that period than New Zealand; England have played the most, at 153.

Andrew Strauss started after me and he has been finished for a few years, and he played 100 Tests,” McCullum said. “We don’t play a huge amount of cricket, which will hopefully change in the next little while for the team.”

Asked to choose the highlights from his long Test career, McCullum picked out the team high of winning an away series against West Indies in 2014 – “a defining moment for us as a team” – and the personal achievement of scoring a triple-century against India at the Basin Reserve – “probably because of what it meant to those who follow this team”, as well as for the way it helped define the team’s fighting character going forward.

Typically self-deprecating, McCullum said he would not “go down as a great player”, but rather one who made some important contributions and stayed true to his own style as a batsman. It is that laid-back style that has made him such an effective captain, instilling in his men a sense of fun that remained evident as they trained in Wellington on the eve of his final series.

“It’s more the mental game which is the hardest thing – where you’re doubting yourself, you’re not sure whether it’s going to be your last Test from a performance or selection point of view,” he said. “It almost takes the pressure off you when you remind yourself that it’s meant to be fun, the game. Just go out there and play it for the right reasons. Funnily enough, it’s when you let go a little bit is when your performances start to improve a little bit.

“The game has always been about [what happens] in the change-room afterwards, after you’ve been able to earn a Test win in tough circumstances and you’ve been able to overcome a very good opposition. To be able to sit around and see that a group of guys have achieved something over five days, and to sit around with smiles on their faces, a bit of music going, you’ve got dirty whites and sweaty black caps and a beer in hand, and you’re able to look back on the hard work achieved. That’s what I got into the game for and that’s going to be the last memory of the game as well.”

At least, he hopes it will be precisely that scenario: having overcome a very good opposition.

“It would be nice tick off a series win against Australia,” McCullum said. “We weren’t able to do it away from home, but it would be pretty special to do it at home.”

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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