India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hyderabad, 4th day November 15, 2010

McCullum proves top-order credentials

ESPNcricinfo staff
After giving up the wicket-keeping gloves and the physical burden that came with it, he has shown he can be a competent Test opener

By any standards, Brendon McCullum has had a great year with the bat in Test cricket. His stroke-filled hundred at Hyderabad, however, is the strongest indicator that opening the batting could well be the making of him in the five-day arena. Some would say that six centuries and an average of 36.5 after 54 Tests represents a poor return for a man of his undoubted ability and his displays so far in India suggest that they're right.

After making 185 against Bangladesh at the start of the year, McCullum scored another attractive hundred as New Zealand made Australia wait for victory in the first of the home Tests against the old enemy. Before Ahmedabad though, he had opened only once, more than six years ago in what was the last series that Gary Kirsten, India's coach, would play.

As a one-day opener, he averages 41.76 and scores at better than a run a ball. Given the success enjoyed by Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle and New Zealand's failure to find a reliable opening pair, it's perhaps surprising that McCullum wasn't asked to go up the order earlier. Once he gave up the wicket-keeping gloves and the physical burden that came with it, it became a possibility and this innings has shown just how he could grow into the role.

Having come to the crease with the team 122 in arrears and smarting from the indignities meted out by Harbhajan Singh, it would have been easy for New Zealand to withdraw into a shell and try to play for the draw. That approach though doesn't sit well with McCullum's character, and after Tim McIntosh had taken much of the early strike, he was quickly on his way with some fluent shots past the infield.

"I've really enjoyed it," said McIntosh of the opening partnership at the end of the day's play. "We were talking before coming out for this innings of how we really wanted to get ourselves underway. We had some really good open-wicket training before the first Test and we both felt that we complement each other pretty well. He kind of takes the pressure off you at times too when he gets going. I think it stands us in good stead for the future."

What was most noteworthy about New Zealand's response was the positivity on view. You expected McCullum to put the bad balls away, but McIntosh was no slouch either, coming down the pitch to smash a six of his own. "I think positive intent's been a big thing for us," he said. "We both know that if we get ourselves in, we can bat like any other situation despite being behind in runs."

India were looking especially listless until Simon Taufel gave them a break in the afternoon. There didn't appear to be any hint of an edge of glove as McIntosh went to sweep Pragyan Ojha, and the decision turned the course of the day's play. The run-rate slowed down and three wickets in the final session gave India some hope of forcing a result.

Some would say that six centuries and an average of 36.5 after 54 Tests represents a poor return for a man of his undoubted ability and his displays so far in India suggest that they're right

McCullum, whose confident approach included reverse-sweeps and deft paddles in addition to crashing drives and cuts, was still there on 124, and McIntosh suggested that there would be no change in tactics on the final morning. "We'll continue to play positively tomorrow," he said. "It's an important first session for us. If we can have a good one, it sets up the chance to set India something."

That possibility remains remote, especially given how placid the pitch is, but New Zealand have been anything but overawed over the nine days of this series. "I think they've been good wickets," said McIntosh when asked if he had been surprised by the lack of dramatic turn even on the fourth and fifth days. "Some balls have spun. Probably not as conducive [to spin] as you may have seen over here. But I think they've been good cricket wickets."

Confirmation of how hard India have been made to toil came from the local hero, VVS Laxman. "They've always been [a tough bunch]," he said. "Whatever series I've played against them at home ... even in the 2003 series, they put in a good fight. They are good players of spin bowling. The most important thing they are showing in this series is that they're playing with a lot of patience and not throwing away their wickets. They are a very good side which we all knew before the start of the series."

India may have the edge, but they'll need to lift their game to a level seldom glimpsed over the past nine days if they're to land the knockout punch.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ADITHYA on November 16, 2010, 7:16 GMT

    This team really does not deserve no.1 status.How can a team which cannot take 20 wickets in a match against a weaker side regarded as no.1......Really rubbish......... What will happen to the so called no.1 side against South Africa at their home.....Iam a big supporter of team India.There may be batting legends who can score hundreds..will that give result if bowling unit is a big blooper?....India cant stay at no.1 for long without a tearaway fast bowler who can touch 145-150 consistently.Common BCCI do something to save India.Pakistan had given chance to anyone who can bowl at a lightening pace....INDIA REALLY LACKS LIGHTENING PACE BOWLERS...

  • kumaresh on November 16, 2010, 6:56 GMT

    i think Dhoni has failed to use part time bowlers like sachin and sehwag. Dhoni's form is also a factor so he should be given rest for the remaining match.

  • diren on November 16, 2010, 6:14 GMT

    India cant even take 20 wickets against New are they going to bowl the South African superstars out??? Kallis , smith, AB , Amla , Prince India really got big problems with their bowlers

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2010, 2:36 GMT

    india will need two quick wickets before them scoring around 90 and limit the tail.250 or so will be a very chasiable target and if sehwag gets to a great start it will be even easier...india can send harbajan 2nd or 3rd down and if he scores 30-40 runs quickly india will be in great shape

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2010, 2:05 GMT

    Brendon McCullum did his best.... he almost destroyed India winning dream.well done !!! mcCullum...

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2010, 1:51 GMT

    @sai prasad this match is clearly heading for a draw India cant win this

  • Darren on November 16, 2010, 0:24 GMT

    Congrats to B-Mac. He has such talent and people are constantly saying he should drop down the order. This just proves that he has the credentials to bat at the top of the order and from here he can build a launching pad to go on and score a real big hundy. Kiwi's need to get over B-Mac getting out early against the new ball because the moments like these make it all worthwhile!

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2010, 23:51 GMT

    This has been the most common condition for India against many teams in the past, but the percentage of conversion is very poor. I believe, India would badly need Ashish Nehra with Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth in these circumstances where Brendon is playing chanceless and 5 more scalps are in tact. Surely, Brendon has played an outstanding innings so far. Still, as VVSL says that India can win this match then the existing bowlers and part time bowlers are really needed to do a commendable job by bowling penetrative and aggressive bowling backed up with high class fielding. Top order batsmen are needed to play with nerves, temperament and like perfect opportunists keeping the time factor in minds. All the best....Chak De India

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2010, 22:44 GMT

    I don't know who should be most worried that Harbajan Singh is top scorer for this series, India or NZ. Didn't you just used to have to wait for him to mow something across the line nd get himself out?

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2010, 22:19 GMT

    I guess INDIA is not NUMBER 1 team, this is not the way Test Number 1 team should play. I hate to say this but this is fact. what happen to Indian team, they can't even take 20 wickets of the Black Caps thats is something the selecotrs should think about..!! If Sehwagh doesn't play then its all DONE, India will LOOSE for SURE..:( India is in this position just because of Sehwag and some young guns and OLDIES like Sachin and Laxman. What about Dhoni? His average is less than Bhajji in Tests(he should think about it).

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