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How the Phillip Hughes tragedy sparked a new BlackCaps era

Cricket

A Test in Sharjah that nobody wanted to play – amid one of cricket’s darkest hours – laid the foundation for New Zealand’s latest playing renaissance, says retired captain Brendon McCullum.

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The was no fairytale finish to McCullum’s 14-year career at Hagley Oval yesterday as Australia swept the Test series 2-0 with a seven-wicket win in his final international appearance.

But a disappointed McCullum still found time to contemplate his achievements and the progress of the national side.

His most insightful reflection came when asked to nominate a stand-out career moment.

He says for galvanising his team, it was hard to go past the third Test win over Pakistan in November 2014, which levelled a three-Test series in the United Arab Emirates 1-1.

The second day was suspended when news broke of the death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, struck in the head by a bouncer.

We almost stumbled through tragedy on a style of play which kind of worked

The Black Caps were reluctant to return to the field and, when they did, played in an uncluttered fashion because their minds were focused elsewhere.

The result was an innings win, featuring their highest Test score of 690 which comprised a world record number of boundaries (86) and sixes (22).

The late Phillip Hughes. Photo: AAP/Dan Peled

The late Phillip Hughes. Photo: Dan Peled, AAP.

“Sharjah was a huge moment for us as a team,” McCullum said.

“That was a catalyst for a lot of the free-flowing cricket that we’ve seen, without the inhibitions of worrying about what may go wrong… we almost stumbled through tragedy on a style of play for us which kind of worked.”

McCullum hopes to be remembered by teammates and fans as a player and skipper who didn’t die wondering in his pursuit of victory.

We’ve lost a few games but we’ve got our soul back

He appreciated the guard of honour from the Australian players when he walked out for his world-record 54-ball century on Saturday, along with other gestures during the two months since his retirement was announced.

A final salute was a round of applause from his teammates inside they changing sheds before the final day began.

McCullum responded with an emotional public tribute to the players and coaching staff afterwards.

“Thank you for at times being vulnerable and accepting that at times we had to play the game differently,” he told them.

“We’ve had some fun over the last few years I reckon. We’ve lost a few games but we’ve got our soul back.”

McCullum reckoned he would wake up today feeling “dusty” as he planned to celebrate with friends and family.

The main emotion would be relief in the knowledge that he would no longer face the scrutiny that comes with captaining his country.

His family and other interests will quickly take priority.

“I’m not a real sentimental sort of bloke but my Black Cap will hold pride of place somewhere and that’ll be probably it.”

-AAP

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