Flicking round the sports channels last night I was reminded that earlier, while listening to the excellent internet cricket radio station Guerilla Cricket’s coverage of England’s comedy T20 defeat, one of the regular contributers to the fine alternative cricket commentary service had reminded me that there was a test match on later that evening. I soon stumbled onto a scene of perfection. A beautiful, lush green oval bathed in sunshine, grass banks packed with people and 15 figures resplendant in white – New Zealand were taking on the Aussies in the second test at Christchurch. Whether you like the sport or not you can’t argue with the beauty of a scene like that. I was drawn in – test match cricket on a Friday night with a beer or two?
Winning at life.
What made this even more captivating for me (apart from the scene of resplendant summer on my telly brightening up a cold winter’s evening) was the fact New Zealand were batting and this was Brendon McCullum’s last test. I have always had a soft spot for the Kiwis, mainly down to how they play the game; hard but fair, in great spirit but with no lack of skill and entertainment. This is driven mainly by McCullum. He is as maverick a batsman as any KP, Warner or Sehwag but without the machoism or ego. He epitomises all that is good about New Zealand cricket and won them many friends here last summer. In short, I am a big B Mac fan and, strangely for modern international sport, he is a rare breed who appears to be universally loved.
And so with New Zealand struggling to get the ball off the square, strangled by the Aussies’ new look accurate attack, McCullum came to the crease at 30 odd for 3. Given the now mandatory guard of honour by Piggy Smith’s motley crew, the atmosphere was intense and having seen his side struggle along on a green top at under 2 an over I wondered how B Mac would play this. I didn’t wonder for long.
Within his first few balls faced he had a thick edge over the slips for 4 followed by a booming drive down the ground. He then destroyed Mitch Marsh with a truly brutal over of proper cricket shots. While Kane Williamson trudged along at less than 0.2 runs per ball at one end on what was seemingly a Headingly track from the 70’s, B Mac speared the hapless Aussies to all parts on what appeared to magically turn into a Colombo road when he was on strike. Undoubted great sport in his last test, something that would be fun while it lasted but you felt his demise was just around the corner.
Williamson went. The brutish figure of Corey Anderson came to the crease to join in the wonderful spectator sport of Aussie slaughter. And then, just as we were dreaming of a possible century in Macullum’s last international game, the demise came, and credit to the Aussies, it was special. A full blooded cut off Lincolnshire’s own younger Pattinson was middled above a wide gully. Standing below it Mitch Marsh reacted and leapt, like a love child of Paul Collingwood and a wild river salmon, to pluck an extraordinary one handed catch, mid air, one handed behind him. But wait. Pattinson doesn’t seem to share the roaring enthusiasm of his team mates? Does he know something we don’t?
I’m not sure what the best ever catch off a no ball was before last night but it is now the second best. The replay showed he had clearly overstepped and, like with everything McCullum seems to do, he had the most dramatic of reprieves. It was then you sensed the sporting gods were not just with him, they were having a good old laugh at Australia’s expense into the bargain. Well played sporting deities but bed at lunch was no longer an option for me.
Into the afternoon session and Aussie bowler after Aussie bowler was put to the sword with mainly glorious cricket shots. It started to become clear that not only could McCullum score a century in his last test – he could possibly break Viv Richard’s long standing and legendary fastest test hundred record.
And so the target was set. 18 needed off 7 balls to match the record. 6 balls to beat it. A very short Hazlewood bouncer and its down to 5 balls. Then, a pure slog for 6, a wonderful punch over mid on for four, a streaky top edge over the keeper for four – 96 no off 53 balls. It’s really on. This is really happening. Everyone watching – even the most chest beating, Fosters drinking, casually racist Aussie, would have been willing on history. 54th ball – Piggy places two crazy fly slips for the top edge pull. Ball in the slot, B Mac down the pitch, smashed over the top for four. Bedlam.
Never have I cheered as loud at home for a sporting event featuring teams I don’t actively support. A great of the game, a wonderful charachter of moral fibre who is universally respected and loved, scoring the fastest ever test century in his reitrement test in a New Zealand city still scarred by two earthquakes in this decade. Also breaking the record for most sixes hit in test matches and most consecutive tests into the bargain. A fairytale finish to such an extent that Hans Christian Anderson would have torn up the premise for being too fanciful. Pure sporting drama, a wonderful moment and – the icing on the cake – against the Aussies.
Given all that, the conditions and game situation (32/3) when B Mac came to the crease. It was probably one of the best and most remarkable pieces of sport I have watched. As a bonus the aforementioned Guerilla Cricket covered it, which meant no Danny Morrison on comms. Well worth staying up for.
And you know what. Despite all that, the Aussies are still in a decent position and could win the match. Exactly why test cricket is so wonderful.
Brendon McCullum. Bone Fide Legend.