We all talk about fairy tale endings and how some athletes deserve it when they bow out of the game after long, accomplished careers. Most often, their careers read like tough-love fairy tales themselves, but it’s always about the last moment. That’s how most fans want to romanticize a sport, and have one last enduring picture-perfect memory of their sporting heroes. Sachin Tendulkar fell for 73 in his final test innings, Kumara Sangakkara signed off with a very low-scoring uncharacteristic series, Brian Lara was actually run out because of a panicked Marlon Samuels back in 2007, and even Michael Clarke signed off after losing the Ashes; months after winning the World Cup in dodgy form.
None of them managed to end on the high that had defined most of their careers; they ended on sweet, inevitable age-respecting notes. Only Jacques Kallis had come close, scoring a match-saving century in Durban against India in 2014 in his final Test match. South Africa, of course, have never been the same since then. You could however feel every sinewy foot movement, broad-shouldered defensive strokes and gutsy leaves; that’s who Kallis was – and he made sure you knew you were watching a batting master leave at the peak of his powers.
On a gloomy Saturday morning at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch – Brendon McCullum’s adopted home – that rare wish materialized in spectacular fashion. ‘Baz’, the original tattooed, swaggering rockstar of New Zealand Cricket (and cricket in general), playing in his 101st and final Test match of a career that began back in 2004, reminded us what he stood for, and why he should be missed. After two single-digit scores in the first lost Test against Australia, the Black Caps came into this one and were put in to bat on a green top in seaming conditions. In no time, they were 22/3 – and their captain one last time walked out to bat through a guard of honor. Surely, Steve Smith and his team fancied their chances against McCullum, who would surely swing away and ride his luck rather than gut it out like Kane Williamson was doing (he was 3 off 54 balls by then) at the other end.
The crowd will never forget what transpired over the next 79 balls of McCullum’s innings. He’d never bat in a first innings again, but if there was ever a way to go out – ever a way to nutshell the philosophy of an entire career into one audacious innings – this was it. His 145 came off 79 balls. He broke several records while doing so.
Let’s take a look at some of the stats:
54: Number of balls it took to score his century – a World Record – after 2201 Test matches in cricket’s history.
56: The balls taken by previous joint record holders Viv Richards and Misbah-ul-Haq.
68: Number of balls taken by Kane Williamson to score 7 runs on the same pitch – 14 more than McCullum to score 93 fewer runs.
31: Number of years Viv Richards held the record.
30: Number of fielders Steve Smith wished he had on the field during this innings.
4: Number of balls it took Brendon McCullum to go from 84 to 100.
6: Number of sixes he hit during this innings of 145.
6: Number of boundaries he top-edged over the keeper, forcing Smith to have two absurd fly-slips towards the end.
106: Number of Test sixes he has hit in his career of 101 tests – a new World Record, beating the 100 hit by Adam Gilchrist.
101: Number of Tests McCullum has played consecutively through his career since 2004, without a break.
70: Previous fastest century New Zealand record held by McCullum.
34: His age when he retires at the end of this Test.
183: Strike rate of his record-shattering 145, the second highest strike rate of a 100+ test innings (after Richards 110 off 58).
195: His last score at the Hagley Oval against Sri Lanka in December 2014; this came of 134 balls.
When asked what McCullum’s plan was for the second innings when he walks out to bat for one final time in his career, he replied, “I’ll swing harder.” Batten those hatches!