New Zealand were five wickets down for 94 and needed 151 more runs to make India bat again. They needed an effort that defied belief, and to an extent instinct.
Instinct is a powerful evolutionary force, and it controls you more than you can control it. Pure instinct makes a cornered dog attack in self-defence. Similarly, pure instinct makes a batsman like Brendon McCullum search for the big hits when a ball is dug in or pitched up.
For overwhelmingly long periods on Sunday, the New Zealand captain, playing with a sore shoulder and a dodgy back, resisted those instincts and the Indian fast bowlers. He may like to revise his assessment of calling his Auckland double century his finest in the game.
The innings (unbeaten 114) that the Kiwi captain played today is not only his best, but merits a place alongside the very best of Bert Sutcliffe, Glenn Turner and Martin Crowe in the New Zealand Cricket Museum at the Basin Reserve. Irrespective of the result. It was perhaps then symbolic that the six he smacked off Ishant Sharma to bring up his century fell at the doorstep of that very museum.
When McCullum walked in to bat, New Zealand, needing 246 runs to avoid innings defeat, were 52 for three and in deep trouble. Zaheer Khan had taken two wickets in the morning session to swell his tally to three. The wily left-arm pacer, who didn’t have much success in the previous three innings, was at his sharpest.
Having accounted for Peter Fulton on Saturday evening, Zaheer gave India a massive early break when he removed the dangerous Kane Williamson off a delivery that shaped out a hint, just enough to take the outside edge of New Zealand’s most consistent batsman of this entire tour. Out-of-form opener Hamish Rutherford showed intent and played a few strokes but fell for 35, edging to the ‘keeper a delivery that pitched at length and moved away ever so slightly.
The masters of swing will tell you they don’t need the ball to do too much in air, just a little movement is enough. That’s the movement Zaheer was eliciting when McCullum came out to have his say. He was beaten off the second ball as he dangled the bat out to an outswinger, only to see it miss the outside edge. McCullum would give a couple of more chances. Most notably off Mohammed Shami, a few overs later.