OPINION: Barely three months ago, Brendon McCullum gave the gloomiest interview of his career.
Crippled by a chronic back injury, the New Zealand captain returned from Bangladesh ready to declare his own cricketing innings, the ever-present critics ringing loud in his ears.
Today McCullum stands atop his personal Everest after one of the greatest displays of endurance, concentration and courage in New Zealand sport.
It's all that McCullum deserves after he gritted his teeth and fought the pain, shuffling into cricket's record books and proving his mettle once and for all.
This likeable man's man from Dunedin who answers to "Baz" (his middle name is Barrie) embraces the Kiwi stereotype of rugby (or should that be cricket), racing and beer.
Quick with a cheery greeting or a one-liner, McCullum is almost more comfortable discussing his love of horse racing than discussing cricket.
He has minority shares in several gallopers, one of which, El Doute, is a contender for one of New Zealand's premier races, The Derby, at Ellerslie on March 1.
A win there would almost give McCullum as much of a rush as his Basin epic. A gambler on the field and off it, McCullum's not shy about plonking some of his earnings on a horse he likes.
He seems brash and uber-confident with his swagger, tattooed arms and cheeky grin, but those close to him say it's not all as it seems.
McCullum can wound easily and took some pointed criticism about his commitment to the Black Caps to heart amid his dark days in November.
Giving up the wicketkeeping gloves, and throwing his wicket away were regular favourite topics. Unfairly, he's attracted more than his share over the years via the talkback airwaves and internet forums.
He gives generously. A hopeful text message last year by a parent fundraising for his son's cricket team was greeted by the gift of a McCullum bat to be auctioned off.
His young team-mates clearly worship their leader and would leap the picket fence blindfolded for him.
Same goes for his children; son Riley and daughter Maya, with a third on the way in May.
Young Riley already shows some of the McCullum cricketing gifts. Wife Ellissa, an Australian who met McCullum at a game on his first tour in 2002, is a regular at home games with the children but they stayed at home in the Christchurch suburb of Merivale for this one.
Father Stu was on hand, biting his nails then leaping to his feet on the Cricket Wellington balcony. The former Otago opener's love of a beer and a punt is as legendary as his son's.
McCullum soaked up the plaudits during New Zealand's one-day series win, and deflected them too. Of playing for his country he said: "these are the greatest days of our lives and we should enjoy our success".
McCullum will celebrate hard tonight in much the way he approaches his cricket. Indeed, these past three days have been some of the best of his life.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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