OPINION: It was a rapture of sorts. Lunchtime yesterday the nation's more devotional cricket followers ascended to their own astral plane, an ecstatic state in which they savoured the spiritual reward of cricket's kingdom come.
Down below the less faithful, while still earthbound, were wide-eyed and full-hearted in their admiration of Brendon McCallum's triple-century innings.
Those who care just a bit about cricket, and just a bit less about cricketing history books, may well be blind to the finer points of the game's inherent artistry and indifferent to comparisons with the heroes of yore.
But come on, there was no missing to the epic bravery McCallum showed against India during the pasts two days.
The true depth of this achievement goes further than the bunch of records it set, or even that it ensures a series victory and a happy end to an unexpectedly superb summer for a code that sorely needed one, having drawn more dutiful than ardent support in recent years.
It's days like yesterday when a sport truly cries out, exultantly, to its existing and potential audience.
The day started with perhaps the perfect advice for McCullum from former captain Martin Crowe, who had himself once famously been dismissed on an agonising 299. On the cusp of his own career highlight, Crowe's thoughts just momentarily sped ahead of his situation and he faltered.
The lesson being that in cricket the instant a batting milestone starts feeling like a foregone conclusion, it's more likely to become a foregone opportunity.
So stay in the moment, Crowe urged. And that was the thing. McCullum took the nation with him into those moments. As midday approached and the tension built to exquisite levels, uncounted Kiwis followed it all, vicariously but vividly. They bonded over moments of scare, delight and, at last, fulfillment.
It might be tempting to dismiss much of this as the temporary support of fair-weather friends who will be quick to bail when the going gets tough again.
But surely even those who show up as lackadaisical semi-supporters are more likely to be stayers if their newfound attention comes less from the sheer spectacle than a sense of the very human qualities behind it; qualities that can equally shine through in times of adversity. And that's what McCullum demonstrated.
Even better, it hasn't come easily for this guy. He has been an assailed figure, sorely castigated for all the things he was held not to be. Like classy, controlled and reliable. The carping commentators wanted to know where was the substance behind the swagger.
Well, there it was. More than a few of McCullum's more extravagant critics now have cause to reconsider both the wisdom of their remarks and perhaps the permancence of them.
That's social media for you. A generation or two from now, their children and grandchildren might care to check out what they had to say about the Black Caps captain that saved the India series and set the test innings record.
McCullum himself will inevitably pay tribute to the support he received from his team mates, notably fellow batsmen BJ Watling and Jimmy Neesham. And yes, this really has been a comprehensively good season match, and season, for the Black Caps as a unit.
But even within a team dynamic, there are times when a nation's ambitions orbit a single player. McCullum emphatically came up with the goods. Now who wouldn't want to keep tabs on how he, and these guys, go from here?
- The Southland Times
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