He may have questioned his desire to carry on, but Brendon McCullum never lost faith he'd go big with the bat and play the decisive captain's knock he craved.
McCullum's epic 224 in just under eight hours looked even more remarkable last night as India wobbled in their reply and the first cricket test became New Zealand's to lose at Eden Park.
The tourists resume this morning on 130-4 in reply to New Zealand's first innings of 503, still 174 short of avoiding the follow-on.
Having slumped to 10-3 against the Trent Boult-Tim Southee double act, Rohit Sharma looked comfortable and resumes as India's big hope, 67 not out with skipper MS Dhoni to follow.
After bad light halted play 17 overs early, the next three days are forecast for largely fine weather in Auckland. Given New Zealand's bowling arsenal and predictions the hard new ball will continue to nip around, they should swagger to Wellington 1-0 up in the two-test series.
McCullum was one short of his highest test score, also against India in Hyderabad in 2010. He'll rate this one the best of his 142 test knocks if New Zealand snare victory, given the pressure they were under at 30-3 against the world's second-ranked side.
The skipper was under some heat, too, after some patchy test form stretching back to the tour of England in May. His December century against the West Indies in Dunedin didn't silence the doubters.
"It's harder to lead when you're not scoring runs but that's when your character and your fighting qualities come out. That's the important time to stand up as a captain and still enjoy other people's success. You've got to keep the faith that the hard work and the desire is burning strong and the runs will come sooner or later," McCullum said.
"It's an improvement. I wouldn't say it's a weight off my shoulders because in 36 hours I'll probably be under more pressure again. It's nice to get a score and hopefully get a test victory."
McCullum learned test cricket never got easier; the expectation increased and the pressure mounted. He often questioned if he was hungry to carry on. When he got the chance to go big he had to make it count, and thanks to some batting guidance from centurion Kane Williamson, a 23-year-old beyond his years, the skipper put his head down and ground it out.
New Zealand's first innings was their fifth 400-plus effort in their last six tests. It was daunting for India's crack batting lineup who looked all at sea.
Boult was certainly in some hurry and by the end of his first over he'd dispatched Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara.
Left-hander Dhawan is becoming a walking wicket in New Zealand and he couldn't cope with a regulation Boult outswinger. Pujara arrived in prolific form with a test average of 66.25, and his dismissal was the big surprise when he wafted at a wide one which didn't swing.
Boult and Southee will soon be remembered as New Zealand's best new ball pairing. While Boult snares more wickets, Southee is an outstanding foil and his line and length was impeccable, using the width of the bowling crease and nipping the ball away.
His dismissal of India's kingpin Virat Kohli was a gem. He hardly saw a bouncer which clipped his helmet and flew to the cordon. Kohli looked mortified by umpire Richard Kettleborough's decision, clutching at his grille and glaring. He never seems to believe he's out, but replays showed a tickle on his left thumb.
Neil Wagner was expensive but removed Murali Vijay with an absolute gem to maintain the slide.
India's board refuse to agree to the decision review system in bilateral series and there were a few controversies. Boult had an adjacent lbw shout against Ajinkya Rahane, on two, turned down by Steve Davis when replays showed it was hitting the top of middle. Earlier, Corey Anderson's 77 off 109 balls was cut short by Ishant Sharma (6-134), lbw, but replays showed another Davis poor call.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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