Innings of a lifetime for NZ saviour McCullum

JOB WELL DONE: Man of the moment Brendon McCullum relaxes in the New Zealand dressing room last night after an innings, a match and a series he will never forget.
JOB WELL DONE: Man of the moment Brendon McCullum relaxes in the New Zealand dressing room last night after an innings, a match and a series he will never forget.

As hordes of expectant fans streamed into the Basin Reserve and the words of Martin Crowe and Stephen Fleming rang in his ears, the enormity of the occasion dawned on Brendon McCullum.

Then as he cut Zaheer Khan for four to become the first New Zealander to score 300 in a test, 45 minutes into the day, it was bedlam in the morning gloom.

The standing ovation from the 3357-strong crowd went for an eternity, shivers flew down spines. A few eyes even misted up.

"I've never experienced anything like that before. That's something I'll hold on to for the rest of my life," McCullum said.

Not that the skipper, who led his side to a 1-0 test series win over India with the most dominant batting display by a New Zealander, permitted any tears to cloud his sight.

"Nah, no tear in the eye. I'm from south Dunedin," he grinned.

Still, his head was in a spin as he arrived at the ground 19 runs short of the magical mark.

The queues snaked on to Kent Terrace with fans buying half-price tickets and awaiting history with expectant eyes like children on Christmas morning. Not since Richard Hadlee's 300th test wicket in 1986 had there been scenes like it.

"I wasn't too bad till I saw the size of the crowd; then every ball that I defended, left or got a single they would start cheering and it made me a little bit more nervous.

"That's when I understood the magnitude of the task and the immense joy it gives fans of this cricket team to see guys succeed and see records broken."

The night before, having batted a tick over 12 hours already, he had a beer with father Stu and tried to keep it as normal and relaxed as possible.

He was exhausted and slept soundly, then the nerves kicked in when he turned on the television and saw Crowe being interviewed, the man who fell an agonising one run short on the same ground 23 years earlier against Sri Lanka.

"He was discussing how significant it would be. I guess that made me realise how big a moment it would be. I also spoke to [business partner] Stephen Fleming last night and he said the same thing, and those are the two guys who sat at one and two on the table.

"I feel a bit embarrassed because I'm nowhere near the calibre of players they were, but in terms of New Zealand cricket and this team, we have finally broken 300."

McCullum, after batting five minutes short of 13 hours in the longest test innings by a New Zealander, was gone two balls after the massive high of reaching the triple ton.

Veteran Zaheer nicked him out on the way to a five-wicket bag and the standing ovation roared again; McCullum saluting the ground once more.

He paid tribute to the support he got from fellow centurions BJ Watling (124) and debutant Jimmy Neesham (137 not out), each showing courage and strong character.

McCullum went into the home summer expressing serious doubts as to whether he'd last it, as his chronic back injury flared up.

He still had questions over his form going into the Indian test series, spent long hours in the nets and battled through the pain with his 224 in Auckland in just under eight hours.

The temptation to play the trademark big shots remained throughout the 559 balls he faced in Wellington, but the difference now with McCullum is a watertight defence.

"The big change I've made is picking the right shots to the right balls because I trust my defence rather than having to attack because you don't have any confidence in your defensive game."

McCullum kept repairing his bat grip in order to keep using his preferred slab of willow, but that one would now be put away with Twenty20 coming up.

"I'll bring out one of my old favourites with a few dents around the edges that can handle a bit more of the swashbuckling swings."

The Dominion Post