Brendon McCullum came agonisingly close to breaking the world record for the fastest Test double century as he bludgeoned Sri Lanka’s attack around Hagley Oval to lead New Zealand to 429 for seven at the close on the first day of the first Test on Friday.
McCullum had raced to 195 from 134 balls before the home skipper was caught in the deep by Dimuth Karaunaratne off debutant spinner Tharindu Kaushal, sparking a rush to the exits from the capacity crowd of 8,000 in Christchurch.
The existing record was set in the same city when New Zealand’s Nathan Astle took 153 balls to reach his double century against England at Lancaster Park in 2002.
The 33-year-old McCullum belted 18 fours and 11 sixes in his innings as he became the first New Zealand batsman to surpass 1,000 Test runs in a calendar year and broke his own national record for the fastest century, which came off 74 balls. Mark Craig was on five after wicketkeeper BJ Watling was trapped lbw for 26 in the final over but the hosts were in a dominant position after they had been asked to bat by Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews on a green pitch.
“Once I got under way and managed to create a partnership with Kane (Williamson), the runs began to flow quite nicely,” McCullum told RadioSport.
“It was nice to have a good solid day and put ourselves in front of the game and put some pressure back on Sri Lanka.”
Despite the bowler-friendly conditions, Sri Lanka’s attack did not look penetrating, despite New Zealand slumping to 88-3 shortly after lunch and the match seemingly swinging back towards the visitors. Suranga Lakmal, however, dropped a simple caught and bowled opportunity off Williamson with the score on 103 and the floodgates opened.
McCullum punished anything short by slashing it to the cover-point boundary and when the Sri Lankan bowlers pitched up, he simply belted the ball back over their head. He shared in a 126-run partnership with Williamson (54) and then a 153-run stand in 19.3 overs with all-rounder Jimmy Neesham (85) as the hosts took the visitors out of the contest by scoring at more than 5.3 runs an over.
“I was trying to be a little aggressive when the ball was up to get them to back their length off and that would create a scoring opportunity,” McCullum added. “I think there is still something in the wicket for the bowlers if you bowl the fuller length, so hopefully when we do get the ball in hand we can create some opportunities,” said the skipper who was described as the most destructive batsman by batting coach Craig McMillan. “I don’t think I’ve got enough superlatives to describe that innings today. The man is an x-factor player. He has the ability to dominate and dismantle bowlers and change the tempo,” McMillan said.
“I think he’s the most destructive and domineering player to play for New Zealand, certainly that I’ve seen,” added the 38-year-old former cricketer.
“One of the keys to his performance in Test match cricket over the last 12-18 months is the work he’s done on his defence. That might sound a little bit crazy when he’s belting the ball around the park as he has, but I think he’s tightened up in certain areas of his game, and kept the good balls out,” McMillan said. “When he gets any chance to score — and for McCullum the margins are so small for the bowlers — he really punishes you and makes you pay. We know he plays all around the wicket and has all the shots, but his option-taking, based around a sound defence, has taken his game to another level.”
Brief scores: New Zealand 429/7 in 80.3 overs (K Williamson 54, B McCullum 195, J Neesham 85; A Mathews 2/34) vs Sri Lanka.