Brendon McCullum KO-ed Sri Lanka on Boxing Day with the fastest century in New Zealand’s Test history. Not content with that, he nearly broke the world record for the quickest double-hundred, but fell five runs short – for 195 off 134 deliveries. McCullum put severe pressure on the bowlers and fed off the resulting inconsistency to ensure that all his four 50-plus scores in 2014 were turned into massive centuries – 224, 302, 202 and 195. The rest of the side played in his image and even an out-of-form James Neesham found fluency such that the fifth-wicket partnership produced 153 runs in 117 balls.
New Zealand finished on 429 for 7 in the 80th over – the most they have ever made in a day’s Test cricket – having maintained a run-rate of 6.63 in the final session despite McCullum’s exit. Neesham was the prime reason for that, exploiting his strength to pepper the long-on boundary during an innings of 85 off 80 balls.
Sri Lanka played to McCullum’s strengths as well, seduced into bowling a touch short by the ample carry on offer at Hagley Oval. McCullum slashed through point whether there was width or not and pulled despite two men lurking in the deep. His front-foot play would not be outdone either and a vicious six over long-off crowned him as the first New Zealander to score 1000 Test runs in a calendar year.
Sri Lanka’s attempt to stifle him by spin backfired as well, with McCullum constantly running at 21-year old debutant Tharindu Kaushal and refusing to let him settle. Having practiced against slow bowling, he felt at ease stepping down against the quicks as well and Lakmal felt the brunt, going for 26 runs in an over, the joint-fourth worst in Test history.
New Zealand’s first Boxing Day Test in 11 years, and Christchurch’s first in eight, was well attended and McCullum’s bullish knock was exactly what the crowd wanted. It isn’t often that batsmen can challenge Vivian Richards for swagger, but McCullum’s was almost tangible every time he decided to attack and that was often as 18 fours and 11 sixes suggest. That he was munching on a piece of gum and preying on the confidence of fast bowlers was the cherry on top. Like Richards, McCullum has an impressive captaincy record – undefeated in six out of eight series in the last two years – and he gave New Zealand a perfect start to the home summer.
Things had seemed promising at the toss for Sri Lanka, with Angelo Mathews having all of his first-choice seamers fit. The pitch had been quite green in the lead-up to the Test, but much of the grass was removed on match day, leaving Shaminda Eranga, Suranga Lakmal and Dhammika Prasad to count a bit more on their patience.
There was a brief period after drinks in the first session when they threatened. Lakmal produced just enough inswing to breach Hamish Rutherford’s defences. A steady Tom Latham was dismissed when a flick took the leading edge and lobbed to point.
Williamson held firm though, coaxing his first ball to the cover boundary, and capped the morning session with a solid back-foot punch through point. He appeared less sure of his game after the break though, and Sri Lanka could have capitalised had Lakmal held onto a return catch in the 29th over. The next ball was glanced to the fine-leg boundary, typifying the see-sawing in the bowlers’ consistency. He contributed 20 runs to a partnership of 126 with McCullum, and was bowled through the gate for 54 when Prasad pitched the ball up.
That Sri Lanka took a little time to settle into their lengths was not such a surprise. Only one of their three frontline seamers has played more than 20 Tests. Four of the visitors’ bowlers went at well over four an over, with Kaushal leaking 159 in 22.
Sri Lanka’s batsmen were left with a daunting rescue mission, considering New Zealand’s bowlers are quicker and more suited to these conditions.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
New Zealand 429/7 (80.3 ov)
Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to field
Sri Lanka in New Zealand Test Series – 1st Test
Played at Hagley Oval, Christchurch
26,27,28,29,30 December 2014 (5-day match)
Stumps – Day 1
|New Zealand 1st innings||R||M||B||4s||6s||SR|
|TWM Latham||c Kaushal b Eranga||27||106||65||3||0||41.53|
|HD Rutherford||b Lakmal||18||73||34||4||0||52.94|
|KS Williamson||b Prasad||54||160||98||7||0||55.10|
|LRPL Taylor||run out (Silva)||7||18||8||1||0||87.50|
|BB McCullum*||c Karunaratne b Kaushal||195||202||134||18||11||145.52|
|JDS Neesham||c Sangakkara b Mathews||85||129||80||10||3||106.25|
|BJ Watling†||lbw b Mathews||26||61||51||2||0||50.98|
|MD Craig||not out||5||19||0||0||26.31|
|Extras||(lb 4, w 2, nb 6)||12|
|Total||(7 wickets; 80.3 overs)||429||(5.32 runs per over)|
|Sri Lanka team|