These were scenes you wouldn’t normally expect in New Zealand. The Kiwis do like their cricket and they did turn up in good numbers on the first three days of the Wellington Test. But snaking queues of expectant spectators at the Basin Reserve’s gates on a weekday is something unusual in these parts.
There were people in formals, and you could tell they had skipped work — taking a longer bathroom/coffee break if not really calling in sick. It’s a fairly regular occurrence in India; in New Zealand it’s unprecedented. At least for a sport that doesn’t involve an oval-shaped ball and pinning your opponents down.
Triple hundreds, they are commonplace these days, aren’t they, you thought. Kumar Sangakkara hit one only a couple of weeks ago. Two Indian players on the pitch on Tuesday have three each to their credit — albeit in first-class matches. What’s the big deal, you wondered.
But then you saw Sunil Gavaskar in the press box adjusting his tie. You thought of Martin Crowe, too, who was here the other day — and who was here, too, at 299 twenty-three summers ago. You thought of Sachin Tendulkar. You thought of all those greats who never reached 300.
And you also considered the fact that in 391 previous Tests, in 83 preceding years, no New Zealander had scaled that summit. In which time, one of them had scaled Mount Everest before anyone else could.
All right, you said, 300 for New Zealand is a big deal. But just how big?
The Long Wait
It was difficult to quantify the magnitude of the impending achievement. Let’s just say there were people out there who were risking their lives and limbs to get a glimpse of it. Beyond the stands, beyond the packed embankments, you spotted a 60-year-old man precariously holding onto a branch from his vantage point on a tree.
If that man had a fraction of the weight McCullum, overnight unbeaten on 281, was carrying on his shoulder at the beginning of Day Five, the branch would have come crashing down. Safe to say, then, that on Tuesday morning, there was nothing that mattered more to this rugby mad nation than 19 cricketing runs.
Even the Indian fans, who showed up in large numbers, wouldn’t have begrudged McCullum or New Zealand those runs. After all, they continued…