The third ball of the two hundredth over pitched just outside off stump, a little short of good length. Swaying slightly inside the line, the batsman cut at it, sending it clear of gully and to the third man boundary. With this, Brendan McCullum completed the first triple hundred by a New Zealander. The match was now very much in New Zealand’s control and the series lead seemed secure.
That New Zealand would be in such a situation seemed distinctly unlikely when McCullum came to the crease in the nineteenth over. At 56 for three, still trailing India by 190 runs, and more than two days left in the match, they seemed to be all but out of the contest. When they further slid to 94 for five, it seemed that only question remaining to be answered was whether NZ could take the match into the fourth day.
Having been dismissed for scores of a 105 and 192 in their last two innings and five down, the first part of the rather onerous rescue operation was to see out the third day without any further loss of wickets. McCullum had for company BJ Watling, the keeper, with only the bowlers to follow.
From 94 for five, McCullum and Watling played with circumspection, cutting out all risk, unconcerned with the scoring. Reining in his natural play, McCullum stonewalled the Indian bowlers, abstaining from any extravagant strokes to get to his 146 ball fifty. Growing in confidence, he slowly expanded his play, allowing a few more shots back into his game, finishing the day on 114, with his side still precariously placed, having a lead of only six runs.
Beginning again on day four, the pair batted out the first session, taking the lead close to a hundred. There was now belief that the match could be saved. This belief grew with another wicketless session. This confidence was hit by the dismissal of Watling with the third new ball. The lead was only 200 runs, and there was still enough time for India to chase a target. Despite having got 229, McCullum could not afford loosen his game and play with more freedom, as his dismissal could make the entire effort futile. Concentrating, he progressed up the charts of New Zealand’s highest scores, finishing the day at 281. With the lead over 300, the match was finally safe, and New Zealand in command. Now could the attention finally shift from the team to the man, and the performance take centre stage. The last 21 runs came in the morning session, capping one of the finest innings of recent times.
A three hundred in a test match is the expression of work of a lifetime in a single innings. It reflects childhood aspirations and practice, speaks of the drive and commitment, the hours spent fretting on tiny minutiae of technique, the years dreaming of playing for your country. The physical effort it takes to compose an innings of such length is substantial, with the running for runs, the power needed to hit boundaries and the endurance needed to stay at the wicket for long hours.
The mental effort required is even higher, with the need to concentrate for the long period of time that it takes to compose a triple hundred. There are 10 ways you can get out, and 11 men against you, and a single mistake suffices to cause an end to the inning. The high levels of fatigue, both mental and physical make a triple hundred a rare achievement.
A Triple hundred, for all the labour that goes into it, reflects the man who constructs it. It strips its author to his most innate characteristics. This Inning was a reflection of Brendan McCullum and his indomitable spirit.