Christchurch (New Zealand) – The tattered cap was removed for the last time on Wednesday as Brendon McCullum headed into retirement ultimately in defeat, but on the back of one last destructive, record-breaking innings.
Brendon McCullum drew the curtain on his illustrious career after a 2-0 series defeat as Australia wrapped up the second Test by seven wickets in Christchurch © AFP Marty Melville
McCullum drew the curtain on his illustrious career after a 2-0 series defeat as Australia wrapped up the second Test by seven wickets in Christchurch — but not before yet another feat for the ages from the prodigious bat of the Black Caps captain.
Having lost the toss and been offered first use of a seaming track on Saturday’s opening day, McCullum strode to the middle with his team in trouble at 32 for three.
By the time he departed, a shade over two hours later, his side were in relative comfort at 253 for five.
McCullum had saved his best till his last Test, bludgeoning 145 off just 79 balls and setting new all-time records for the fastest century (54 balls) and the most sixes hit in a career (106).
He cleared the ropes one more time with his final scoring shot in Test cricket in the second innings. He was out for 25 next ball trying to repeat the feat and left to a standing ovation.
“Hopefully I’ve left and brought some fun and enjoyment and some real culture back into the set-up in the time that I’ve had as captain,” McCullum said on Wednesday.
He doubts that he will go down as one of cricket’s greats and, taken in isolation, his final batting average of 38.64 with 6,453 runs from 101 Tests suggests he may be right.
But the 34-year-old has never been just a batsman, nor just a wicketkeeper-batsman in his early days.
Whenever he strode to the middle there was an expectant murmur in the crowd and doubt among the bowlers.
“You walk away knowing that you’ve been able to front up and try to go out there and get a performance on the board and I guess now you’re a little bit relieved,” he said, after leaving the field for the last time.
– Joy of sixes –
Just as he has never changed his Test cap since it was presented to him on the eve of his first Test in 2004, he has never changed his attack-at-all-cost batting approach.
That black cap, by his own admission, “is rancid” after years of use but the brutality of his batting has gone from strength to strength particularly after he took over as captain in 2012, since when had averaged 45 in Tests.
His long list of achievements include becoming the second player, after West Indian Chris Gayle, to score a Twenty20 international century. In total, he has 11 Test centuries, five in ODIs and two in Twenty20s.
Perhaps his best year was 2014, which included scores of 302, two double centuries and a 195, averaging more than 72 per innings, better than Kumar Sangakkara, Angelo Mathews, Younis Khan and David Warner.
He is the only player to have hit 200 sixes in ODIs and a century of sixes in Tests and finishes with 107, eclipsing Adam Gilchrist’s old record of 100 in his final two knocks at Hagley Oval.
Many consider the dogged and Test-saving 302 his most memorable innings, with his vigil coming when New Zealand trailed India by 246 on the first innings and were 94 for five in the second.
– Popular Kiwis –
It was the first triple-hundred by a New Zealander and the near 13 hours in the middle proved he could graft when he had to.
When the popular Ross Taylor was replaced by McCullum as captain during a tour of Sri Lanka in 2012 it caused an uproar in New Zealand.
And on the subsequent tour to South Africa, New Zealand slumped to an embarrassing 45 all out in the first innings of the first Test.
That failure, McCullum recalls, was the beginning of a new determination in a side where the captain instilled a need for players to want to hold their heads high.
In partnership with coach Mike Hesson, he lifted his and the team’s image and turned the New Zealand team to that of a popular side that played entertaining and aggressive cricket.
New Zealand have lost only nine of 27 Tests since. Last year, New Zealand reached the World Cup final for the first time and with a performance that was typical McCullum.
He plied his “smash or crash” approach, with the smash coming off with brutal regularity until the final where he crashed on the third ball and, without their talismanic skipper, New Zealand crumpled.