Ever since New Zealand started playing Test cricket in 1929, the country had not produced a triple centurion. Martin Crowe, the best batsman ever produced by the country, had come close in 1991 against Sri Lanka in Wellington but he fell for 299. For many years, New Zealand’s highest individual score in Tests remained Crowe’s brilliant effort. However, all that changed on February 18, 2014, thanks to Brendon McCullum. The New Zealand skipper led from the front in the Wellington Test against India and created history with a knock that changed the face of cricket in the country. With the Kiwis staring down the barrel, McCullum played a knock that can be termed as one of the best cricketing knocks the world has ever seen.
McCullum had already decimated India with a brilliant 224 in the first Test in Auckland as New Zealand won a Test against India after 12 years thanks to a 40-run win. In the final Test at the Basin Reserve, New Zealand were bowled out for 192 with Ishant Sharma taking 6/51. India took a 246-run lead thanks to Ajinkya Rahane’s brilliant 118 and Shikhar Dhawan’s 98.
In response on day 3, New Zealand lost half their side and the match looked like getting over quickly. McCullum himself had survived a dropped chance on 9 off Mohammed Shami with Virat Kohli dropping a simple catch at silly mid-on. This was the moment the game changed comprehensively and McCullum stitched a series-defining partnership with BJ Watling. The duo first looked to steady the innings and then proceeded to find the gaps with regularity.
The New Zealand skipper notched up his fifty with a sweep off Ravindra Jadeja and he grew in confidence. At the other end, Watling played the sheet anchor role to perfection. McCullum went past 5000 runs and he notched up his century by clobbering Ishant Sharma to the deep midwicket fence for a six. At day 4, McCullum and Watling continued to flay the Indian bowling as New Zealand chipped away at the deficit.
With every passing hour, India found it harder to dislodge the duo. Watling raced to his third century and first against India and McCullum got to his second consecutive double ton of the series by flicking Zaheer Khan to the deep square leg fence. India finally managed to break the 352-run stand for the sixth wicket, the best-ever at that time, when Watling fell for 124 but India encountered another problem with debutant James Neesham giving McCullum solid support.
Neesham got going with some aggressive boundaries and McCullum went past 250. New Zealand had already erased the deficit and were looking to get to safety. By the end of day 4, McCullum had reached 281 and on the cusp of creating history.
On day 5, the crowd had packed the Basin Reserve in anticipation of something special. McCullum moved calmly into the 290s and he survived an outside edge of Ishant that fell in front of MS Dhoni. The right-hander pulled a short ball Kapil Dev style to the deep square leg boundary and Sunil Gavaskar dubbed it the ‘Nataraj shot’. Neesham notched up his maiden century but McCullum created history by guiding a back of a length ball from Zaheer past gully to become the first New Zealand batsman to hit a triple century in Tests.
The standing ovation from the grass banks of the Basin Reserve was a sight worth seeing. At the far end, near the members pavilion, McCullum’s father Stu McCullum cheered his son. For five minutes, the crowd at the Basin refused to sit down as they cheered the feat by Brendon McCullum. The skipper fell for 302 off 557 and the knock spanned 775 minutes, the most a New Zealand batsman has ever batted.
Speaking about the achievement, Martin Crowe wrote a poignant column on ESPNCricinfo thanking McCullum’s contribution. “With Brendon scoring our nation's first ever triple-hundred, I have finally removed the one remaining stone in my shoe. It's pathetic to even have to do so, yet massively necessary. Yes, it has been quite an uplifting few days of personal selfish rehabilitation. Indeed they (McCullum and Ross Taylor) have reinvigorated a cricket nation, and most importantly encouraged many young aspiring athletes to dream big.”
The 2015 World Cup tagline was Greatness is Contagious. It might well have been written for McCullum and the legendary knock of 302. It was indeed a great sight for a cricket fan and one genuinely appreciated by fans across countries.