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McCullum leaves comet trail of memories

Cricket

It was his speed of hand that really caught the eye.

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The scene was Don Bradman Oval, Bowral, in January 2002, and Brendon McCullum was cutting loose for his country for the first time.

Belligerent rather than Bradmanesque would describe the knock at the small NSW ground where The Don’s ashes had been scattered three months earlier.

Television cameras weren’t there to see 20-year-old McCullum blast 96 off 81 balls against an Australian Country XI.

Casually chewing gum and wearing a surfer’s-style necklace, McCullum delivered 68 of those runs in boundaries.

There were cross-batted swipes which went either 7m or 70m.

More shots went in the air than along the ground.

Nothing was done at half speed.

The bat was usually blur.

Sound familiar?

It was youthful impetuousness but also the sort of innings Brendon Barrie McCullum – or Baz – was to make commonplace during a sparkling 14-year international career.

Whether at the top or middle of the order, whatever the format, the pocket rocket with the spiky blond hair became compulsory viewing whenever he strode to the crease.

The son of former Otago opener Stuart McCullum, there have been only glimpses of the doughty batting genes of his father.

They bubbled to the surface at the peak of his powers two seasons ago when he compiled 1164 runs in the calendar year.

He only went past 50 four times but capitalised fully on each occasion, including his record-breaking 302 against India in Wellington.

That knock in particular, along with New Zealand’s heady charge to the 2015 World Cup final, left Black Caps supporters thankful for a momentous decision made by McCullum in his late teens.

A stand-out five-eighth at King’s High School in Dunedin, he chose to ditch rugby to pursue the summer code.

Another who might be especially grateful at the decision is All Blacks great Dan Carter, who missed out to McCullum when a South Island schools team was selected in the late 1990s.

McCullum’s hand-eye co-ordination and dexterity was obvious when he inherited the Black Caps wicketkeeping gloves from Adam Parore.

A decade or so of crouching and diving took its toll on his back and he relinquished the role around the time he became captain in late 2012.

That was also a dark period for a player who was already dividing public opinion with his rocks or diamonds batting approach.

His controversial promotion over deposed skipper Ross Taylor only widened that schism.

Undeterred, McCullum set about changing the profile of a national team whose results were poor but, just as importantly, weren’t engaged with their supporters.

He told his players to drop any pretence of arrogance, believing it wasn’t warranted, and become a humble side who made the most of their limitations.

The results were astounding.

Alongside coach Mike Hesson, he has constructed an aggressive and potent one-day unit while steering New Zealand to the best series of results in their Test history.

The public jumped on the McCullum steam train two years ago and nothing has dimmed the retiring skipper’s popularity.

He was largely painted in a good light for his role in the 2015 perjury trial against former teammate Chris Cairns.

His recent Test batting form slump would have drawn loud calls for his axing three years ago.

Instead, the 34-year-old McCullum will take his flashing blade to the professional Twenty20 circuit with his legacy assured.

-AAP

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