New Zealand might have lost the first test at Lords but one man, who remained the focus of everyone’s attention, was Brendon McCullum. He flew into England after playing nearly 40 days of T20 cricket in the sweltering summer heat of tropical Indian cities and transformed himself to the needs of classical test cricket. It is summer in England as well but compared to India, conditions are much cooler. McCullum’s reputation precedes him wherever he goes and Lords’ cricket community was no different. A place, which is revered all over the world, attracts packed audiences on each playing day of a test match. In that respect, McCullum didn’t miss attention because, since the CWC World Cup, he has been playing in front of jam-packed stands. On first day, England began by losing 4 wickets for 30 runs and it seemed New Zealand would have it easy but McCullum kept his emotions under check just as he always does. Until the third day, New Zealand held the upper hand with a 134 lead on the first innings. Over the next two days, England changed all that with a remarkable turnaround that brought a great victory for them. Such an eventuality couldn’t have been foreseen 48 hours earlier. Regardless, McCullum did not lose the attention and despite personal failure in both innings, the frame of his personality was still larger than life.
Before arriving in England, McCullum was singularly responsible for New Zealand’s great show in 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. Many people felt sad, when New Zealand lost to Australia at MCG. The man transformed his team from also-rans into one of World Cup’s strongest side that had an amazing unbeaten run through the tournament. That enthralled the nation and made McCullum a revered figure. When McCullum was bowled by Player-of-the-Tournament Mitchell Starc for a duck, many of his fans lost their voice. But the New Zealand captain didn’t lose the reputation of a great leader as he was still named the captain of a world side from among the participants. In a two-Test series against India a year ago, McCullum hit a double century followed by New Zealand’s first triple-century in tests. Then at UAE last autumn, he blasted 202 off 188 balls with 11 sixes in the Test series with Pakistan. Within 10 days from the World Cup final at MCG, McCullum was playing for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL at India and every time, he got amongst runs, CSK won the game. The CSK management rued the departure of McCullum for their last few matches because they were losing a man, capable of making decisive difference between victory and defeat.
At Lords last week, as England batted first, New Zealand had a hard toil for more than a day after an early England debacle. McCullum marshaled his bowling resources against determined knocks from Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Butler and Moeen Ali. Next day, New Zealand batsmen came on the field and their top order batted superbly. McCullum appeared only on the third day morning, when the score reached 337/3. The Kiwis had come within 52 runs of England’s first innings score of 389. Kane Williamson had scored a well-deserved century and despite batting awkwardly, McCullum ensured that New Zealand went past England’s score. The skipper scored 42 off 38 balls before losing his wicket. But he was content that New Zealand had taken a healthy 134 run lead on the first innings. England engineered a rare turnaround in their second outing and set a victory target of 345 runs for the Kiwis. In the fourth innings, New Zealand lost early wickets and the first test got tilted in England’s favor. McCullum came out at 61/4, when Kane Williamson got out and had his stump pegged back by Ben Stokes’ next delivery. There was a thunder of applause at Lords but as the camera caught McCullum’s face, it was devoid of any expression. It was the repetition of what happened in the World Cup final against Australia. Regardless, McCullum had seized the imagination of not just his fans but of the entire global cricket community. In a leadership role, any other batsman would have taken some stick for the wretched batting performance in the World Cup final as well as in each of his innings at Lords. After the defeat, McCullum acknowledged that England proved too good in the end but he still had words of praise for his boys, who were relentless all through. The captain singled out Trent Boult, who sent down 63 overs in the two innings and there were others with some niggling injuries. He added that it was hurting when a match is lost but he won’t give up so soon. On two occasions, when walked to the middle of the Lords’ pitch to bat, he galvanized the crowd and media and when he failed, he still had the gravitational pull of his instincts.
McCullum is made of a different stuff. It took him years before scoring his first hundred in test cricket. In other formats, he is no less lethal. On the inaugural day of IPL on 18 April 2008 in Bangalore, McCullum launched the tournament with a 73-ball 158 from in a charismatic knock that gladdened the hearts of IPL organizers. Back home in New Zealand, the legacy of McCullum refuses to fade away. He wanted Daniel Vettori in the World Cup squad and cricket managers didn’t interfere with his thoughts. Vettori was pleasantly surprised to see a personal text message from McCullum on his cell phone, when he was somewhere in Europe and headed back to New Zealand immediately.