In the slam-bam, unforgiving world of contemporary limited overs cricket, batsmen start as the Kings. They are better today than ever before, while bowlers are at their weakest. Millions of factors have contributed to this, but mostly, this is how the game has evolved. Pitches, conditions, rules, umpires and balls have all contributed to the rise of the limited-overs, ruthless, fearless batsman. To see shots like the Dilscoops to guys like Dale Steyn, reverse sweeps to Shaun Tait and switch-hits to Morne Morkel is not shocking anymore. It would have been considered as both career and literal suicide till the late 90s. Batsmen compete with their numbers, stats, averages and intimidation tactics.
Therefore, to laud one such batsman who averages a mere 30.4 over his career of 260 ODIs almost seems foolish.
But Brendon McCullum, at least over the last three years, stood for far more than numbers. In context of his country’s cricketing history, he is second perhaps only to Martin Crowe in the influence he has wielded over the traditionally mid-table team. New Zealand before McCullum’s captaincy was a different nation altogether. And they have been transformed, left in a brighter state than they ever were. Many may debate that this was too early for “Baz” to go, that he was still at his most destructive, and he was only still blooding a lethal team to revolve around the disturbingly stable Kane Williamson. But Baz wants to go. And as we know, when Baz wants to go, he will go – both, on the pitch, and in life.
In an era where T20 cricket has captured the wildest of batting imaginations, Baz stood out for his ‘Mad Max’ style. There was nobody more brutal than him in the first 10 overs of a match. He not only replicated Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana from the 90s, he bettered them, and in the process, even made his partner Martin Guptill a better and more aggressive batsman.
If his style ever had to be nutshelled into a single tournament or phase of cricket, it isn’t the 2014 season where he pummeled a hapless India into submission on home turf. Not that triple century, or the double either. It wasn’t Test cricket. It was the ODI World Cup in 2015, where he led the Black Caps to the final, losing to Australia eventually after winning eight in a row till then. Who can forget his unbelievable 77 off 25 balls against the poor English side (300+ strike rate)?
The way he went after bowlers from the first ball of every game – a glorious, chilling, unsettling sight to behold. He smashed them across New Zealand’s small grounds, having mastered the strategy of blazing away so that his “grafters” – Guptill, Taylor, Williamson and Elliot could then take over. Even in this age of batting madness, McCullum had surpassed everyone’s wildest imagination. Here was a captain, a leader, a wicketkeeper who decided to take reigns of the top order, of the destiny of his team – batting as if he had nothing to lose. They had everything to lose. They were playing at home. They had the best new-ball pair in the world. And just like that, McCullum paved the way. Just like he had paved the way for the biggest T20 franchise in cricket back in 2008: It was his phenomenal innings of 158* for the Kolkata Knight Riders against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the inaugural match that kickstarted the Indian Premier League.
Here’s why McCullum, who retired from limited overs cricket (his last Test series will be, appropriately, the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, which they had only lost a few months ago in Australia) after leading his team to a historic 2-1 ODI series win over Australia, will be missed:
2140: His aggregate in T20 internationals, the highest so far. He is also the only player with two T20I centuries.
165: His stunning ODI strike rate in the first 10 overs of an innings since January 2015. Nobody comes close. 772 runs in 469 balls.
155: His general ODI strike rate in the same period for all his innings.
200: Number of ODI sixes in his career. He hit his 200th against Australia in his final match at Christchurch, scoring a trademark 48 off 28 balls.
36: Number of ODI matches NZ won under his leadership.
35: Number of catches and run-outs to his credit as a fielder.
34: Age at which he is retiring from international cricket.
Many shouldn’t forget that Baz also led one of the fairest and spirited international teams in recent history to success. New Zealand has now become synonymous with fair play and sportsman spirit.