1986 was the year of the infamous “blackwash” when England, captained by David Gower, was beaten 5-0 by the West Indies. And that story would have been incomplete without the last nail on the coffin driven in by local hero Vivian Richards’ 56-ball century on the Recreation Ground at St John’s in Antigua.
England spinner John Emburey who was present and suffering that day would refer to it as “the biggest carnage I have seen in such a short space of time in any first-class game“.
That century would go down in the books as the fastest in the history of Test cricket, and the record would remain for thirty years.
Brendon McCullum’s Last Dance
On the 20th of February 2016, a man playing his hundred-and-first and final Test match would put a hapless Australian attack to the sword on a spiteful seaming pitch, and shatter the record that had stood for three long decades. Walking in with New Zealand in deep trouble at 32 for 3, he would play a knock the likes of which Test cricket has seldom witnessed, an innings that would be aptly described by a witness as ‘quintessentially McCullumesque’.
Starting his career as a wicketkeeper-batsman for New Zealand, Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum would go down in the history of cricket as one of the greatest players of the game. But to put a final stamp on his greatness such that no doubt remained, in his final Test match as player and captain, he would play an innings the memory of which is guaranteed to draw gasps of disbelief decades later.
McCullum had been dismissed for a duck in the first innings of his 100th Test and Australia went on to win the match. So when the teams met at Christchurch for the second Test, McCullum’s last, he felt he had something to prove on his home ground.
Baz was beaten off the first ball he faced. He had a swipe at the second that resulted in a four over the slip cordon. He was on 5 off 4 balls when Mitchell Marsh came on to bowl the 23rd over of the match. McCullum hit the first ball for a massive six, which would be the first of six he would please the crowd within the innings. He would follow it with 17 hits to the fence.
But all that would come later. For now, Mitchell Marsh had to be given the ‘Baz treatment’. 6, 0, 4, 4, 6, 1 from the over and Baz was on his way.
With New Zealand’s total at 74, Kane Williamson edged one to Smith in the slips off Marsh. He had stuck around for an hour-and-a-half grafting the singles for a painful 7 runs. New Zealand was four down and Corey Anderson walked in. At the other end of the pitch, but light years away on another solar system, McCullum was wielding his bat much like a laser gun.
His 50 came in 34 balls with six fours and three sixes. 84% of his runs had come from boundaries. Even at that point, there was no hint that the fastest century mark of Viv Richards (later matched by Misbah-Ul-Haq at Abu Dhabi) was in any danger. But the next twenty balls would change that.
With Anderson joining the party at the other end of the pitch, the runs for New Zealand came thick and fast. In the meantime, McCullum moved to 82 after 50 balls. Josh Hazelwood, Australia’s spearhead came into bowl. The next four balls were despatched to different parts of the ground. 6,4,4,4 after the first four balls and McCullum had made history. The fastest Test century in history was now marked against his name.
Astonishingly, exactly one year before the fateful day at Christchurch, McCullum had bludgeoned his way to the fastest 50 in the history of World Cup cricket in just 18 deliveries against England at Wellington, beating his own record in 20 balls set at the 2007 World Cup against Canada.
Back at Christchurch, McCullum would go on to score 145 in 79 balls before he became the fifth wicket to fall at the score of 253. New Zealand would be all out for 370. Australia would post a strong reply scoring 505 on the back of centuries from Joe Burns and Steve Smith. The Kiwis would respond with 335, McCullum in this instance contributing only 25 in his last Test innings. Australia would knock off 201 losing only 3 wickets in the process to win the match by 7 wickets and the series 2-0.
End of an era for New Zealand cricket
Brendon McCullum’s retirement from the highest form of the game, becoming the first player in history to play 100 consecutive Test matches from his debut, marked an end of an era for New Zealand cricket.
Few will forget one particular innings that he played against India at Wellington in 2014. McCullum compiled 302 in 775 minutes, an innings marked by its patience, intent and application, and as different from his last Test innings as one could imagine. It was the eighth-longest innings at the time in terms of minutes. It saved New Zealand the Test from a hopeless position, and McCullum became the first New Zealand batsman to score a triple-hundred. It also firmly established the fact that McCullum was, before anything else, a team man that could mould his batting to his team’s needs.
From a slow but valuable triple century in Test cricket to the fastest 50 in World Cup history, to the fastest Test century of all time, Brendon McCullum was your man.
As Brydon Coverdale was to say once McCullum laid down his bat, “McCullum slowly moulded New Zealand into a terrific – and hugely popular – team in all formats, not only in terms of their results but also in the manner in which they played the game: attacking with both bat and ball but without any of the sledging and needless aggression that is often a part of other teams. Under him, New Zealand reached the World Cup final for the first time, in 2015, and went 13 consecutive home Tests without a defeat.”
Brendon McCullum, a true cricketing great whose retirement at the peak of his prowess left New Zealand and world cricket poorer.