New Zealand’s big-hitting skipper Brendon McCullum was hailed on Friday for his rollicking 195 to dramatically turn the opening day of the first Test against Sri Lanka.
His dominating 134-ball performance which led New Zealand to 429-7 at stumps also carried special significance for the 8,000 people who packed Christchurch’s Hagley Oval. They were looking for an outstanding performance to mark the return of Test cricket to the earthquake-battered city and the signs were against them until McCullum strode to the crease with New Zealand at 88-3.
The wicket was green and McCullum, who lost the toss, was forced to bat on a pitch where he desperately wanted to bowl.
But within a session and a half he had Sri Lanka on the ropes at the oval, a venue purpose built after the city’s former cricket ground at Lancaster Park was destroyed in the devastating 2011 earthquakes which claimed 185 lives.
McCullum hit it to all parts of the ground, smashing 18 fours and 11 sixes, in a record-breaking performance that New Zealand batting coach Craig McMillan rated the best opening day in New Zealand Test history.
“It was a very special day. It was the sort of day this venue and this city deserved with what they’ve gone through,” McMillan said.
As McCullum bludgeoned the bowling, he took just 74 balls to crack the fastest century in New Zealand Test history and became the first New Zealander to score 1,000 runs in a calendar year.
He equalled McMillan’s New Zealand record of 26 off one over when he smashed three sixes and two fours off six balls from Sri Lanka’s strike bowler Suranga Lakmal.
He also equalled the New Zealand record of 11 sixes in an innings, one short of the world record of 12 sixes held by Pakistan’s Wasim Akram.
In his career, McCullum has now hit 92 sixes, closing in on the world’s best of 100 by Australian Adam Gilchrist.
“Even in your wildest dreams you would never have picked a day of Test cricket like that, especially when the pitch is a little bit on the green side and you lose the toss,” McMillan said. “I don’t think I have enough superlatives to describe (McCullum’s) innings.
“He has the ability to dominate, dismantle bowlers very quickly and change the tempo and the way an innings is heading very quickly.
“He’s so destructive. I think, probably the most destructive and domineering player who has played for New Zealand.”
The innings capped a stellar year for McCullum who in February became the first New Zealander to join the elite club of cricketers to score 300 in a Test innings.
Against Sri Lanka he starred in two century partnerships – 126 off 22.4 overs with Kane Williamson (54 off 98 balls) and 153 off 19.3 overs with Jimmy Neesham (85 off 80 balls) – as he led his side out of trouble and put them in command of the Test.
When he was eventually undone, caught by a diving Dimuth Karunaratne to give off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal his maiden Test wicket, McCullum left the ground to a standing ovation.
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