Swashbuckling, dazzling, inspiring - Brendon McCullum, a phenomenon
It is moments which define a player and Brendon McCullum provided us with those aplenty.
Brendon McCullum marked his guard for the first time in white clothing 13 years back to the date. The mention of McCullum prompts my memory to jog back to the inaugural match of the 2008 IPL where he set the stage alight with his pyrotechnics. So much so that Dravid had to indulge in levity during the post-match press conference for he had reduced the contest to a joke.
Few names jump up to one’s memory when you mention the word ‘impact’. McCullum screamed impact when he played. Quick feet, clear mind, indomitable spirit and a fit body were traits he was blessed with.
The very fact that he played from his debut until the very end without missing a single Test bears adequate evidence to his fitness levels. To his spirit, imagine playing a dilscoop to a 154kmph screamer from Shaun Tait or the whirlwind innings he played to bring the curtains down on his career. He simply brought fun back into the game.
Few statistics remain etched into one’s memory. A hundred centuries, a batting average of 99.94 and 800 wickets are probably the few numbers which cricket fans can quote from memory. But it is the moments which define a player. A series of moments aggregating to the final image that gets imprinted in a viewer’s mind.
Years down the line, one doesn’t remember the number of centuries Sir Viv Richards has scored, but his swag is still fondly recalled by all the connoisseurs of the game. The same goes for Baz. Stats barely tell half the story.
A Test batting average of 39 coupled with a one-day batting average of 30 scarcely portrays his contribution to the game. McCullum came into the team as a brash youngster and remained brash till the end, although along the way he crafted a few gems.
He often gave New Zealand the start they were looking for in the shorter form of the game. He remained a threat down the order in the longer format as well. And yet, all that wasn’t his biggest contribution to New Zealand cricket. His legacy lies in the team he built. The ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ brand of cricket which defines New Zealand now.
He took up captaincy at a difficult time. With all the brouhaha surrounding Taylor’s sacking, he took the reins across all the formats. New Zealand cricket was down in the dumps. Up was the only way they could go, and soar they did.
Once, during a conversation with a friend, I pondered – What is the greatest legacy a captain can leave behind? The response, “He shouldn’t be missed after he leaves”. Though it didn’t make sense to me at the first go, a good leader always makes himself redundant before Father Time catches up.
A Border to a Taylor, a Ganguly to a Dhoni. These great leaders never left their understudy wanting. Of course, their presence is going to be missed. But they have taken the team forward and laid the foundation for further growth.
Trent Boult and Southee are feared speedsters, Williamson is among the big four, Guptill – the archetypal understudy – now a feared wielder of the willow. This is a legacy any captain would be proud of.
During Ross’ tumultuous times as captain, "I said to him, 'This is your effin' team, mate. You need to grab it by the scruff of the neck and I will help you along the way, otherwise, we're going to lose our way completely.’" writes McCullum in his book, Declared. He grabbed by the neck and magnificently so.
For all the talk about McCullum’s aggression he never lost his sensibilities on the bigger picture. When tragedy befell the cricket world in the form of a bouncer to Phil Hughes, McCullum and his wards were locked in a battle with the mercurial Pakistanis.
When the news broke, on McCullum’s orders, his troops didn’t bowl a single bouncer for the entire duration of the match. Wickets or runs scored weren’t celebrated. And yet the competitive spirit didn’t wither. They, in fact, ended up winning the match.
Moments like these repose your faith in your heroes. Another occasion when McCullum reined his aggressive instincts was during his monumental triple century against India. The Indians had his team reeling at 90 odd for five with almost 200 runs in the deficit.
Hopes of a famous away win were slowly and painfully crushed as McCullum strode his way to a magnificent triple ton. A first by a Kiwi batsman and the fourth longest innings in Test cricket in terms of duration.
Finally, the moment which capped his stellar career. He bowed out the only way he knew – with a bang. Coming in with New Zealand in a precarious position on a seaming track, he took the attack to the opposition, dazzling and enchanting us, as he brought up Test cricket’s fastest ton in 54 deliveries.
That wasn’t Baz riding on the last Test license to hit, it was the way he always played the game. Few have reduced the game to a see ball, hit ball equation and succeeded. But the ones who did have given us, cricket viewers, moments to cherish forever.