McCullum smacks fastest ton to rescue NZ

Tea New Zealand 273 for 6 (Watling 6*, Southee 5*, Pattinson 2-72) v Australia v Australia
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Save tonight: McCullum played a thrilling innings in his last Test © Getty Images

He’s not going quietly. Brendon McCullum blasted into history with the fastest Test hundred of them all to leave Australia speechless and grant New Zealand a first-innings foothold on an unforgettable first afternoon at Hagley Oval.

Arriving at the crease in his final Test with the hosts floundering at 32 for 3 in the 20th over of the innings, McCullum launched an immediate counterattack in the lead-up to lunch. On resumption he stepped things up further in the company of a similarly fearless Corey Anderson, and spanked Josh Hazlewood over wide mid-off to reach his century in a mere 54 balls, two fewer than Viv Richards in 1986.

Most of Test cricket’s fastest hundreds have been compiled in circumstances that were heavily favourable to the batsman. Not so this time as McCullum and Anderson overcame the obstacles of a lively pitch, a dominant Australian attack and a day-one scenario that would traditionally have called for dogged defence.

Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Jackson Bird all bowled demanding spells with the new ball, but no one was able to find an answer to McCullum’s assault. Vitally an outstanding catch by Mitchell Marsh when McCullum had made 39 was rendered meaningless when the replay showed Pattinson had overstepped.

It would have been Australia’s third brilliant catch of the innings after the captain Steven Smith had snared a pair of thrilling one-handed takes to dismiss Henry Nicholls and Kane Williamson. The second of these was made still more impressive by the fact Smith was partly obscured by a helmet-clad David Warner, posted at a short third slip close to the bat.

As was the case in Wellington, Smith did not hesitate in sending New Zealand in on a pitch even greener than that served up at the Basin Reserve. Hazlewood and Pattinson found extravagant seam movement immediately, leaving Martin Guptill and Tom Latham groping for the new ball.

Guptill was particularly troubled by Pattinson deliveries that cut back into him, and an inside edge squeezed off the body presented a chance to the short leg Joe Burns, who grassed it. Another opportunity was not long in coming, and this time Burns did well to propel himself forward for the catch.

A period of stalemate followed as Williamson and Latham tried to dig in. There were multiple plays and misses, and pressure built through some diligent work by Hazlewood, Pattinson and Bird. Eventually Bird gave Latham one to drive, to which the batsman’s slightly hesitant movement drew an edge towards the slips. It was probably Adam Voges’ catch, but Smith removed all doubt by flinging himself brilliantly across for a one-handed classic.

Hazlewood had bowled beautifully without reward, but he now homed in on Nicholls, who had edged a ball going across him on day one in Wellington. This time Hazlewood seamed one back down the line, and pinned Nicholls in front of the off stump. Richard Kettleborough gave it out, and the batsman’s review only confirmed the fact.

All this time Williamson had been battling for survival, his back thigh taking a battering as he was often turned around by seam movement. Sensing momentum needed to change, McCullum walked out with his mind set on attack, and after accepting a gracious guard of honour from the Australians he did exactly that.

McCullum’s first shot flew fortunately over the slips, but he subsequently found his range, and one Marsh over was despatched for 21 runs including a pair of sixes. The Hagley Oval crowd came to life, and Australia’s grip on proceedings was loosened.

They tightened it again when Smith swooped to claim Williamson, but Pattinson’s overstep shifted momentum back towards New Zealand. The reprieve allowed McCullum to carry on charging at the bowlers with all the crazy brave belief of a man who knows his luck is in.

There were almost as many edges as full-blooded shots, not unlike Ian Botham at Headingley in 1981, but on a surface offering useful sideways movement this was to be expected. What McCullum did achieve was to throw Australia’s bowlers off the optimum approach for the pitch.

Rather than pursuing the edge of the bat, the visiting pacemen dropped shorter and shorter, inviting McCullum and Anderson to use a horizontal bat. What resulted was an avalanche of runs that put New Zealand firmly back into the match and left Australia pondering a more challenging pursuit than they had faced in Wellington.

Aside from McCullum’s thrilling display, the overall scoring was equally eye-popping. No fewer than 199 runs came between lunch and tea, 161 in 16 overs after Pattinson’s no-ball. When McCullum finally hit one within reach of an Australian fielder to depart for 145, Hagley Oval stood as one. It may as well have been the whole of New Zealand.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.


Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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