Brendon McCullum’s innings of 302 at the Basin Reserve was a true spectacle, with fans of the attacking batsman surely sharing in his delight – especially after New Zealand took out the series 1-0 against a lacklustre India.
It was by no small measure New Zealand’s longest individual innings and the highest score by a Kiwi batsman, while McCullum’s share of the record sixth-wicket partnership of 352 with BJ Watling was a joy to watch.
There was much debate sparked off by commentator Ian Smith of whether McCullum, whose batting feat sits among those of many past luminaries of New Zealand, was in fact the best innings ever by a Kiwi.
The likes of Stephen Fleming and Martin Crowe have played innings of note and are quite high up that list, but McCullum’s innings has to be the best.
Look at the mountain that faced him after coming in to bat at 5-94 with his team staring down the barrel of defeat in their second innings. He found suitable allies in both Watling and James Neesham as they successfully reeled in the deficit and ensured the draw in the end.
Can we now start punting New Zealand as a real threat to the top two or three in Test cricket?
I’ll be the first to say “stop the bus” if anyone suddenly labels the Kiwis as world-beaters. There are those fans, and even commentators, so excited by an innings or two of note that they’re insinuating that New Zealand have earned that tag.
How that can be even remotely suggested on the evidence of one series victory (and another against the West Indies) is beyond me.
India are no doubt a fading light, led by a captain in MS Dhoni whose positive mindset has suddenly turned ultra conservative. With a near-impotent attack at his disposal (what is Zaheer Khan still there for?), they’re struggling to be the force they once were.
New Zealand fell like a pack of cards during their summer tour to South Africa at the end of 2012, though they showed glimpses of what they can do by winning the ODI series 2-1.
McCullum – the skipper on that tour – was one of the players whose form in the Tests left a lot to be desired. Both Tests ended in innings defeats for the Kiwis, with only Dean Brownlie showing good application by amassing a series-high 172 runs for the Black Caps.
Using the recent West Indies series as a marker is all good and well, but the Windies have for various reasons lost their bite since the halcyon days of Lloyd, Richards and Co.
New Zealand have for a long time shown what they are capable of doing to their rivals, but have often flattered to deceive when it comes to defeating the big guns away from home.
Will these two Test series wins be a similar case?
I am a fan of New Zealand cricket, and of a team that has shown over the years that they have exceptional talent in their midst. But they have always struck me as a team of skilful fighters, who lack the knockout punch that can send the ‘big guys’ crashing to the canvas.
Their away form should be of particular concern for their coaches, though they now have a platform to set the matter right.
It is time for New Zealand to stamp their authority once and for all on world cricket. In beating mighty India, they have shown it can be done.