New Zealand v Australia, 2nd Test, Christchurch, 3rd day February 22, 2016

A day of cricket and calm

Given the poignancy surrounding the fifth anniversary of the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake, a day of conventional Test cricket seemed fitting

If Hagley Oval gave Christchurch back its cricket, Brendon McCullum gave the ground its cricketing history © AFP

School was in, work was on, the cricket was in town for truants from either. But around Christchurch were signs that this Monday was different. You could see it outside the Canterbury Museum, where flowers poked from the tops of traffic cones. You could see it on the front page of The Press, a list of 185 names. You could see it at Hagley Oval, where players and umpires all wore black armbands. They were messages all subtle, yet strong.

On the first two days, the fans were allowed on the ground at lunch. Not today. Everybody knew why. Halfway through the break, the Australian players stood on their viewing platform, the New Zealanders filed out at ground level and stopped behind the boundary boards. The fans rose to their feet. At 12.51pm, silence. Five years ago, at this time, the city changed forever. Christchurch can never forget, but today it chose to remember.

Hagley Oval is a permanent reminder of the earthquake, which left Lancaster Park effectively a ruin. Not all locals wanted Hagley Oval developed into the city's new international cricket venue. It sits in a 164-hectare green space that, protesters argued, should remain for everyone. As a visitor, it is hard to sit on the grassy banks with a Test match down a slope in front of you, kids batting against tennis balls down a slope behind you, and not feel that this is for everyone.

It is what Christchurch calls an "anchor project", defined in the city's recovery plan as "key developments in Christchurch's central city" which "inspire confidence and give momentum to the inner city rebuild". Hagley Oval was the first anchor project to be completed. It brought the World Cup to Christchurch and ensures that cricket will continue to visit the city on a regular basis.

If Hagley Oval gave Christchurch back its cricket, Brendon McCullum gave Hagley Oval its cricket history. On the first day of Test cricket at the new venue in 2014, McCullum smashed the fastest Test hundred by a New Zealander, off 74 balls against Sri Lanka. On the first day of the venue's only other Test, and McCullum's last, he blasted the quickest Test century for all comers, in 54 balls against the Australians.

Such moments give the new ground a certain status, and naturally when McCullum walked out to bat again on day three of this Test, for his final Test innings, he received a standing ovation. There was no guard of honour from Australia's players - that had come in the first innings - but from their huddle they clapped him to the middle. It was late in the day, a cloudy afternoon with a cool breeze, and more McCullum magic was too much to hope for.

Of course he still went for his shots, there was no other way. His 27-ball innings was eventful: a streaky four over the slip cordon, a couple of big lbw shouts, a six plundered over square leg off Josh Hazlewood. Next ball, though, McCullum tried it again, dancing down the pitch to Hazlewood, pulling in the air to midwicket, and was brilliantly caught by David Warner. For McCullum, it was a much more fitting finale than a limp lbw.

Once McCullum was gone, fans started to pack up and go home. They had seen a typical day of Test cricket. None of the fireworks of day one. Those who stayed until the end saw 263 runs and 10 wickets. They saw Neil Wagner bowl bouncer after bouncer, and take wicket after wicket as Australia's batsmen played pull after pull. They saw Tom Latham make his average. They saw McCullum go down swinging.

They saw New Zealand's bowlers fight back into the match in the first half of the day, then New Zealand's batsmen battle to make further ground in the second half. By the close, they were 14 runs behind with six wickets remaining. They need a big day four. But Kane Williamson is still at the crease on 45, so a big day four is not out of the question.

What they had seen on day three was conventional cricket. And that was fine. For Christchurch, this was already an extraordinary day. Anything to help make it an ordinary day was okay, too.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

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