At around 4.20pm a clap of thunder echoed around University Oval that never sounded so ominous.
From match point to New Zealand, it was suddenly game over in the first test. It signalled the beginning of the downpours and a watery end to a madcap New Zealand run chase, officially called off at 6.10pm. Talk about snatching a draw from the jaws of victory.
Now it's off to Wellington for the second test on Wednesday, after a third successive draw in Dunedin thanks to a docile pitch and untimely rain. Great result for West Indies and their game-saver Darren Bravo; poor for New Zealand who should have been kicking the dressing room walls, and even some of their team-mates for their carelessness after long periods where they owned the test.
A year to the day after Brendon McCullum was unveiled as Ross Taylor's successor as captain, his record stands at 10 test matches without a win, and his sore back would have pained him even more.
"You are obviously judged by your results. When you've not won a test since I've taken over it's frustrating, but we did everything we could to win this test match and I believe we'd have won if it hadn't rained," McCullum said.
"We've had some lows as well, but I firmly believe we are performing pretty well in test cricket and sooner or later the wins will come."
The skipper's decision to enforce the follow-on, and not give his bowlers a crucial few hours rest, may haunt him, too. But if it did, he wasn't letting on.
"Do I doubt the decision to enforce? Absolutely not. I think it was the right decision at the right time. If the rain had held we would have got the result. There are times we'd love to have the other side of the luck but that's cricket," McCullum said.
This New Zealand test team seems packed with potential but for whatever reason can't close games out, even allowing for untimely weather interventions. They have a world-class new-ball pair but struggle to bowl teams out on lifeless surfaces, their batsmen get the yips when the blowtorch is applied, and their fielding remains below test standard as they shelled four catches in the second innings, notably Bravo on 82.
Set 112 to win in more than two sessions after 224 overs of slog with the ball, New Zealand were 79-4 when light rain forced them off at 3.05pm, just before tea, with Ross Taylor and Corey Anderson steady at the crease. The players never returned from their gloomy bunker, but the test should have been in the can by then.
The damage was done early, as West Indies threw offspinner Shane Shillingford the new ball in their last roll of the dice. Decent spin bowlers and New Zealand batsmen on a fifth-day pitch are an unhappy mix. Peter Fulton ticked one down the legside and Aaron Redmond guided one to the trap at leg gully.
Then Hamish Rutherford played his second poor shot to Shillingford in as many innings, falling for the obvious trap when captain Darren Sammy pushed a man back to long on. No wonder he swished his bat furiously and sent it flying into the dressing room.
McCullum earned some credit with his first-innings century and off-drove powerfully to get off the mark yesterday. But he tried to get things going and slog-swept Shillingford skywards. It was 44-4 and suddenly a miraculous West Indies victory was on the cards.
Taylor and Anderson steadied the ship, but with forecasts and rain radars showing impending downpours 30 minutes before tea, no message went out to step up the pace. When the rain came, New Zealand required 33 runs from 33 overs. So near, but again, so far.
New Zealand looked to have done enough when Trent Boult hauled his weary body up and inspired a flagging bowling effort.
He bowled a magnificent opening spell as he clocked up 53 overs in consecutive innings, skittling Bravo for 218 to one that kept low. It ended the left-hander's 575-minute, 416-ball epic that saved the test for his country.
- Sunday Star Times
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