Battling pain, the Kiwi captain scores a century to rescue New Zealand
Brendon McCullum often writhed in agony clutching his painful left shoulder. He curbed his natural attacking instinct for most part and made the Indian fielders pay for their lapses.
The New Zealand captain’s fighting instincts came to the fore when required by his team at the Basin Reserve here on Sunday.
McCullum’s unbeaten 237-ball 114 dripped with character. On painkillers, he was battling several fronts – his fitness concerns, the situation and the Indian bowling.
In serious trouble at 94 for five soon after lunch, New Zealand ended the third day of the second Test at 252 for five in its second innings, a lead of six.
The determined unbeaten 158-run sixth wicket partnership between McCullum and wicket-keeper-batsman Bradley-John Watling (52 batting) took the match into the fourth day.
Corey Anderson fell around 10 minutes after lunch and the Indian bowlers were frustrated by the two feisty Kiwis for nearly two sessions.
The Indians struck in the first session and then ran into rough weather. With the surface largely playing true, the Indian pacemen were handicapped by Kookaburra ball’s reluctance to encourage reverse swing.
As the day progressed, the Indian attack, although disciplined, did not attack enough to force mistakes by the batsmen. A defensive mind-set hardly helped India’s cause as the second new ball represented an opportunity for India but it was competently negotiated by McCullum and Watling, both former openers, when it had the opportunity to go for the kill.
The sight of the Indian bowlers gets McCullum’s competitive juices flowing. He feasted on them in the first Test with an aggressive 224. He produced a different kind of innings here.
There was some carry and a little seam movement but nothing that really probed the batsmen.
Yet, this was a day when India did its own cause no good by putting down crucial catches from the New Zealand captain.
Reprieved twice, McCullum recovered from a shaky start, grew in confidence and then opened out towards the end.
McCullum was on nine when he miscued a drive off Mohammed Shami. Virat Kohli at silly mid-on, specifically stationed for the stroke, could not latch on.
And Ishant Sharma grassed a tough return catch when McCullum was on 36. The batsman was also fortunate that his edge off an Ishant leg-cutter fell just short of a diving Dhoni.
After that phase McCullum was secure, displaying his defensive attributes. Yet, when Zaheer Khan pitched short, he quickly hooked and pulled.
For someone who has terrific hand-eye coordination, McCullum has reasonable footwork. And he possesses the precious ability to pick the length early and either go forward to create scoring opportunities or use the depth of the crease to shorten the length. Some of his cutting and driving as the day progressed was top class.
It was a triumphant moment for McCullum when he shifted his weight on to back leg and dismissed a length delivery from Ishant over wide long-on for a six to reach his ninth Test century.
Along the way, he crossed 5,000 Test runs; McCullum is the fourth Kiwi cricketer to do so.
Watling was organised at the crease, solidly getting behind the line. He is slightly two-eyed in his stance and has a good view of the deliveries around off.
This wicket-keeper batsman began as a stodgy opener and his methods reflect that. Watling is also a cricketer who appears to relish the sniff of a duel. Between spells of tight defence, he cut Shami and punched Jadeja through covers.
In the morning, India required Zaheer’s experience to make dents.
The essence of Zaheer’s bowling lies in his versatility. He bowled with control from both over and round the wicket, harnessed the angles and extracted just enough seam movement to find the edges of key man Kane Williamson and opener Hamish Rutherford.
The Kiwis lost more ground before lunch. Debutant Tom Latham avoided a pair and then displayed some promise before pushing tentatively outside off to Shami.
And Anderson, caught and bowled off a leading edge, played too early at Jadeja, attempting a flick.
Then, India’s long wait began even as the sun shone.
New Zealand 1st innings 192
India 1st innings 438
New Zealand 2nd innings (overnight 24-1) Peter Fulton lbw b Khan 1 Hamish Rutherford c Dhoni b Khan 35 K. Williamson c Dhoni b Khan 7 Tom Latham c Dhoni b Shami 29 Brendon McCullum batting 114 Corey Anderson c & b Jadeja 2 B J Watling batting 52
Extras (B-2, LB-6, NB-4) 12
Total (five wickets; 99 overs) 252
Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-27, 3-52, 4-87, 5-94.
Bowling: Ishant Sharma 23-3-63-0, Zaheer Khan 25-8-60-3, Mohammed Shami 25-4-72-1, Ravindra Jadeja 26-6-49-1.