Brendon McCullum’s timeless monument here was as much about heart as skill. It was an addition to Kiwi cricketing folklore.
And, the Indian attack, so dependent on the conditions, was ruthlessly exposed on the fourth day of the second Test at the Basin Reserve on Monday.
Another opportunity had gone with the Wellington wind. The Indian bowlers neither contained nor struck on a surface conducive to batting.
The New Zealand captain, soaking in the pressure and fighting through the barrier of pain, came up with an epic Test innings — an unbeaten 525-ball 281.
In an incredible day for the Kiwis, McCullum and the dogged Bradley-John Watling (124) were involved in a world record sixth-wicket partnership of 352, batting a mammoth 123 overs.
Then McCullum, his resolve unflinching, and debutant James Neesham (67 batting) flogged a tiring Indian attack to put together a further 125 runs. The Kiwis ended the day at 571 for six, a lead of 325.
Known for his often impulsive shot-making, McCullum had also produced the longest innings by a New Zealand batsman underlining his commitment under duress.
He has a painful left shoulder but it was the Indian bowlers who were left with sore arms as they conceded 319 runs on the day, picking up just one wicket.
Slew of records
Along the way, a slew of records fell. McCullum became the first New Zealander to notch up double centuries in back-to-back Tests. And Watling’s 367-ball marathon was the longest innings by a Kiwi wicketkeeper.
McCullum has lifted his game several notches in this series. While his shot-making ability has never been in question, his approach to batting has shone through.
Blending caution with aggression
He blended caution — his defence off either foot was solid — with calculated aggression. When McCullum went into attack mode, his driving through the covers was majestic.
As he constructed his innings, brick by brick, the memories of the two dropped catches on Sunday returned to haunt the Indians.
Of course, there were a few distinctly McCullum moments as well. When provided some bounce and width outside off by Ishant Sharma, he upper-cut him for a six.
Watling impressed with his tight technique. He belongs to the old school and his bat and pad were close together as he got behind the line.
He was patient and wore the bowling down. When the bowlers erred, he punched them off his back-foot or worked them between mid-wicket and square-leg.
This right-hander’s composure in a situation that was stressful was outstanding. He concentrated hard and bonded well with his skipper. Watling has a flourishing back-lift but got into good positions. When he went forward and across or travelled back, he did so in a manner that was smooth.
He was finally trapped leg-before by an incoming delivery from Mohammed Shami, operating with the third new ball. Watling walked back to a standing ovation.
It was astonishing how the look of the pitch changed, from being distinctly green on the first day to one of a light brown hue on the fourth. As the day neared conclusion, a few spots seemed to be developing owing to footmarks.
The crucial first session was negotiated capably by New Zealand; the side added 95 to the overnight total without losing a wicket. The Indian bowling was flat and the body language unconvincing.
Much of the bowling was low on energy. It lacked discipline as well. The pacemen bowled on either side of the wicket and the Kiwis capitalised.
For instance there was a 7-2 field and then Shami bowled one onto the pads. Probing consistently around the off-stump is something the Indian seamers didn’t do.
Skipper M.S. Dhoni did not help matters either by going on the defensive and not being pro-active. The field placements lacked imagination. On a pitch of this nature, the bowlers needed to beat the batsmen with air speed and swing. That did not happen. And, Ravindra Jadeja had to deceive the batsmen in the air. For the most part the left-arm spinner was content with a flat trajectory. On the rare occasion he flighted, Jadeja almost got McCullum, who had charged down.
In the end, a smiling McCullum left the arena triumphantly.