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A tribute to Brendon McCullum

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Brendon_McCullum_New_Zealand_cricketThe lion among the Kiwis: tribute to Brendon McCullum on his birthday

Brutal, brash and brilliant. A bit Spartan, a bit carefree and so honest and clean-hearted you would trust him with your life. Brendon McCullum evokes courage and a joy that makes us thankful to cricket.

In a 12 year international career, McCullum went from a young blustering batsman and keeper to an agile fielder who threw himself at everything and a powerful, mature batsman who relished powerful hitting and arguably the most respected Kiwi captain in the last 2 decades.

It wasn't that McCullum was the finest batsman around. Nor was it that innings after innings he frustrated the opposition with solid, impregnable technique. But with the game already made more exciting by the likes of Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle and A.B. De Villiers, suddenly there was another name who arose from New Zealand as one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket. This was ecstasy for fans who relished seeing destructive batting at its best.

A test career that's more emphatic than it seems

 

There are many reasons to laud the heroic Brendon McCullum, but most important is the pure selflessness with which he conducted himself in the game he so loved.

From 101 Tests, he collected 6400 Test runs, with 12 hundreds. All international sides, even those who lorded it, had a hard time in negotiating with this gritty customer. The Aussies felt the edge of his blade; he scored over 800 runs against them. He was dismissive of England, notching up 1040 Test runs. He was particularly severe against India, scoring prolifically, reaching over 1200 career runs in just 10 Tests. Even the unpredictable mavericks from the subcontinent- Pakistan- felt tremors running into this aggressive free-scorer. He enjoyed a lavish average of 49 against Pakistan from 8 Tests.

But 2016, the last we saw of this magnificent Kiwi, was a special year even if it featured Brendon playing just 2 Tests. His willow yielded 180 runs including a breathtaking 145, the fastest Test century ever scored by a batsman.

He was severe to anything bowled short or outside off and punished almost anything toward deep mid wicket and long on, racking up his century from just 54 balls. Those who saw it live on TV wanted to be there in Christchurch to see Brendon possibly at his dismissive best, batting like a youngster with nothing to lose.

But while 2015 may have been a lean year where he managed just 425 runs from 8 games, his form was quite extraordinary if you go back to 2014. The only year where he notched up in excess of 1100 Test runs held something special and unprecedented from this dashing batsman. From just 9 Tests in 2014, he scored a humungous 1164 runs at an outstanding average of 72 with 4 hundreds.

It was a year India would love to forget, for much of the damage they suffered during an unsuccessful tour of New Zealand came at the hands of McCullum. The Black Caps saw a brilliant triple hundred by the captain, the first ever scored by a Kiwi. In an innings where he seemed pretty much the lion swatting aside a rabbit in his dealing of Zaheer, Shami, Jadeja and co., he stood tall for 647 minutes, requiring just 549 balls to notch up 302.

A heroic role in Kiwi's best ever World Cup campaign

ICC 2015 World cup would be remembered for several reasons. Gayle, with his spectacular 215, became the first person to score a double ton in a World Cup. He would soon see his record sent flying by McCullum's good friend and opening partner, Martin Guptill and his incredible 237. The havoc wreaked by de Villiers in Sydney courtesy his fluent 150 was a great highlight.

But apart from Australia's final hurrah and the nail-biting semi-final where the Proteas bowed out bravely, the main talking point of 2015 were New Zealand. And the man behind their new heights was McCullum himself. He excelled in New Zealand's highly memorable campaign, giving them flying starts, upping the scoring ante, lofting big strikes and smashing the likes of Malinga, Johnson, Kulasekara, Steyn.

4 of his 6 fifties of 2015 came in the ICC World Cup at a time when it mattered most, with breezy and brilliant scores of 65, 77, 50 and 59 scored against Sri Lanka, England, Afghanistan and the last a champion fifty that helped his team fly over their opponents in the semi final.

More importantly, sides like England, India, West Indies and South Africa witnessed a sensational new pairing in Martin Guptill-Brendon McCullum; a duo that reigned supreme over opponents with a dash and swagger last felt about two decades back when Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana made world cup headlines in 1996.

Defeated by Australia in the final, but not before gaining immense popularity and regard from an entire world for their form through the tournament, 2015 was the first time New Zealand reached a World Cup final and it was under Baz's captaincy.

The leader who shaped a promising breed of cricketers

The present Kiwi side is one that boasts of world-class competitors who flex muscles with both bat and ball. Boult, Southee and Wagner have emerged along with Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner to make Kiwis no pushovers in the bowling department. Their batsmen can safeguard wickets, defend the toughest of attacks and plunder runs with aplomb: Guptill, Latham, Watling and a certain Kane Williamson.

But who inspired this closely knit unit to becoming the concern of top ranked international sides, having once just being the famous 'underdogs'? McCullum is that driving force. In the words of Kane Williamson, he pushed his team to 'accomplish much more than what one sets out to do'.

His daring and guile, encouragement and no-holds barred assessment reminded the world that New Zealand weren't just the surprise grabbers or the upset creators in important campaigns. And that they were capable of more of what they'd showcased to the world. For all this and more, we must take our hats off to the incredible Brendon McCullum.

 

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