SK Flashback: Brendon McCullum's record-breaking final Test
What’s the best way to play your final (or farewell) Test match if you’re a batsman? Play yourself in, take your time and play the ball on its merit, since you might (will) not be getting another opportunity to represent your country. And, the longer you play, the better it is for the team. Also, you tend to play it even safer when your team is in deep trouble with three wickets down in the first innings of a Test match.
However, a New Zealander named Brendon McCullum didn’t believe in the above philosophy as, in his final Test against Australia, he blasted the fastest-ever Test century off 54 balls.
Brendon McCullum was one of the most exciting players to watch. His approach to any game of cricket was as refreshing and exciting as his batting. Very few instilled fear in the bowlers’ minds like McCullum did. And under his captaincy, New Zealand completely transformed and played excellent cricket. But in December 2015, McCullum decided to shock the world when he announced his retirement. He decided that his last few games would be against Australia (both Tests and ODIs) in February 2016.
He was only 34 years old when he decided to hang his boots and with World T20 just a month away (from his retirement), many felt that it would’ve been ideal if he would play the mega event and then retire. But it was not to be.
Come February 2016, McCullum captained the Kiwis and helped them regain the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy as New Zealand won the three-match ODI series 2-1. Personally, McCullum didn’t have the best series in terms of runs but he ensured super quick starts as he maintained a strike-rate of 175.
Bad start for New Zealand
After a victorious ODI series, New Zealand faltered in the first Test of the two-match series as Australia thrashed the hosts by an innings and 52 runs. It was McCullum's 100th Test but he failed in both innings of his milestone game (he scored 0 and 10).
In the second Test at Christchurch, New Zealand were put in to bat by Australia on a lively green pitch and were once again in trouble at 32/3 in the 20th over. All the Aussie quicks had their tails up and their intensity was top notch.
At that moment, skipper McCullum strode out in his farewell Test to a standing ovation. It was his 101st consecutive Test for New Zealand - most consecutive five-dayers by any player in the history of the game.
He walked through a guard of honour from the Australian players which was led by Steven Smith. However hard the Aussies play, there’s always a sense of emotion involved in the game and it was nice to see the reception they gave McCullum when he arrived at the crease. Smith led by example as he applauded the Kiwi hero’s entry and shook his hand before the guard of honour was broken.
The blazing start
New Zealand were in trouble at 32/3 and Josh Hazlewood was in superb rhythm. On the first few balls, McCullum got a little carried away by the occasion. No doubt it was an emotional moment, but he still had a job at hand.
On his first delivery, he slashed at a short of length delivery and the ball flew past his flashing blade. The next delivery was a length delivery and he went hard at that one as well and got lucky as the ball flew over the slip cordon. It fetched him his first boundary and got him off the mark. On the first couple of balls, he had made his intentions clear that he was going to counter-attack and go hard at the Aussies.
With about 15 minutes to go for lunch, most batsmen would’ve played it safe and seen through the next 3-4 overs. But not McCullum. After seeing out a testing first few deliveries from Hazlewood, the Otago batsman got stuck into Mitchell Marsh. He smashed two fours and two sixes and plundered 21 runs off Marsh’s first over. He then hit James Pattinson for a couple more fours in the next over to send alarming signals in the Aussie camp.
Fans around the world hoped that this would not be a 10-15 minute thriller. McCullum survived through lunch as he had raced away to 37 in just 18 balls. Mind you, this was a Test match which was being ruled by the bowlers about till the 20th over. In the six overs he had batted before lunch, he had played all his trademark shots – the slash over point, the bludgeoning pull, the fierce cover drive and the smash straight back over the bowler’s head.
The first session was action-packed. New Zealand were 32/3 in the 20th over and with McCullum’s arrival, the next six overs fetched 42 runs. It was already a superbly entertaining innings from the New Zealand captain. But fans wanted more. And they got their wishes fulfilled.
After Williamson’s dismissal in the first over post-lunch, McCullum had become a little more subdued. He played 9 deliveries and scored just 2 runs, but that’s when he got his farewell gift. Batting on 39 (off 29 balls) in the 30th over of the innings, he edged one to gully where Mitchell Marsh (who was handed extreme punishment with the ball) took a stunner. However, Pattinson had overstepped and the celebrations the Aussie camp were short-lived.
McCullum raced his way to the fastest Test hundred
After he got a reprieve, McCullum continued from where he left off before lunch. On the next delivery, he played a smashing pull shot which fell short of the fine-leg fielder and trickled away to the boundary. It just added salt to injury and he continued with his merry (and brutal) ways as he brought up his fifty in 34 deliveries.
Every bowler that was brought into the attack was taken to the cleaners as the 34-year-old Kiwi skipper smashed them to all parts of the Hagley Oval. Having reached his fifty in the 31st over, McCullum started getting more of the strike as Corey Anderson started rotating superbly. And, in the 36th over, McCullum hit Hazlewood for a six and three fours and smashed his way to the fastest Test century of all time (in 54 balls). In fact, his second fifty came in a mere 20 deliveries as he was dealing only in boundaries. He broke the joint-record of Misbah ul Haq and Viv Richards (both of them got it in 56 balls).
He got a standing ovation for the second time in the day from a full-house crowd at the Hagley Oval as he raised his bat when he reached his 12th Test century. However, he was not done yet. He continued to smash the bowlers to all corners of the ground. Yes, he did slow down, but just a little. He reached 145 before he holed out to long leg. He had hit the ball well but it went straight to the fielder and the fairy-tale innings came to an end. He finished with a smashing and brutal 145 (in just 79 balls) which included 21 fours and 6 sixes.
82% of his runs (120 out of 145) came in boundaries and that stat shows you the dominance of his innings. He broke numerous records during his two-hour stay at the crease. His strike-rate was 183.54 (second-highest in an innings of 100 or more). He also broke the record for most sixes in Test cricket (106).
The fans all over the world were delighted to see him break numerous records. Messages from the cricketing fraternity poured in and McCullum was trending all over the world.
It was nothing short of a typical Brendon McCullum innings (in terms of shot-making and run-scoring). But the occasion (his farewell) and the emotion made it even more special. And when he walked back after getting dismissed for a bludgeoning 145, it was the third standing ovation that he received from a packed Hagley Oval crowd.
New Zealand failed to build on and eventually lost the Test match and the series. Hence, not every fairy-tale gets the desired ending as McCullum didn’t get a winning farewell, but it was his innings that made it memorable.