Brendon’s big bash

Responsibility has brought the best out of Brendon McCullum, who made history at the Basin Reserve with a triple century. It has been a golden summer for both the skipper and his team. By S. Dinakar.

Making history is never easy. When Brendon McCullum walked into a packed Basin Reserve on the morning of February 18, he had the expectations of a nation on his shoulders. No doubt, by then the Test had been saved and the series won, but the 32-year-old New Zealand skipper would still have felt the pressure.

No New Zealander had made 300 in a Test innings and McCullum (281 overnight) was standing at the door of cricketing immortality.

Considerable media spotlight was on McCullum and fans queued up ahead of the fifth day. Many were ready with their cameras, eager to capture ‘The Moment.’

McCullum had shown great character during his inspirational innings. Playing with a dodgy left shoulder, which necessitated pain-killing injections, and grappling with a sore back, he eschewed his natural attacking game for the sake of the team.

When wicketkeeper-batsman Bradley-John Watling joined McCullum, with the score on 94 for five soon after lunch on day three, the Indians were well on their way.

Given the condition his body was in, McCullum required immense strength of mind to back himself for the physically demanding job of grinding the Indian attack and batting over several sessions to save the Test.

McCullum showed he had steel in his bones. Of course, he was dropped twice early and then found a solid partner in the determined Watling. The New Zealand captain made the Indians pay in a manner that changed the course of the match and the series.

And there, McCullum was still batting on day five, watched by anxious countrymen as he was approaching a landmark that had eluded New Zealand.

The closest that a Kiwi got to the mark was when Martin Crowe made 299 on the same ground in 1990-91 before nicking an innocuous away seamer from Arjuna Ranatunga of Sri Lanka.

McCullum had been a part of a world record sixth-wicket partnership of 352 in Tests with the dogged Watling on day four. Now, he was building another significant association with the free-stroking left-hander James Neesham. Gradually, he neared the landmark.

There were some tense moments for McCullum on day five. He nicked Zaheer Khan just short of a diving Dhoni and a collective sigh of relief could be heard on the ground. Yet, he pulled Ishant with authority. When McCullum cut Zaheer to go past 300, celebrations rent the air. The Indian cricketers applauded and the New Zealand captain raised his arms in triumph.

Soon, he walked back to a standing ovation from the crowd after edging Zaheer.

McCullum has a liking for the Indian attack. All his three 200-plus scores in Tests have come against India. He averages 38.09 overall in Tests, but has 1224 runs at a whopping 68.00 (10 Tests) versus India.

McCullum ended the two-Test series with a mind-boggling 535 runs at 133.75. He had also become a winning captain and a milestone man.

“I did not realise the magnitude of this triple century until Monday evening. Then I saw the expectations, how much it meant to the whole country. There were so many people willing me on,” said the Dunedin-born player later.

McCullum revealed he spent the previous night with his father Stu. “I had a drink with the old man. Just relaxed.”

Interestingly, Stu McCullum wanted to leave for Christchurch that Monday afternoon but realised upon reaching the airport that he had booked his ticket for the wrong date. He watched his son embrace history from the stands.

It was a series where McCullum lifted himself several notches. “A captain has to lead by example,” he said.

Indeed, responsibility has brought the best out of him. McCullum and New Zealand’s summer has been a golden one.