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December 7, 2013
A year to the day since Brendon McCullum was unveiled as New Zealand captain and he still does not have a Test victory to his name. For the second consecutive home Test he had been denied what appeared certain spoils. No wonder he looked shattered.
In Auckland it was down to Matt Prior (and how his fortunes have changed since) and this time it was a combination of West Indian resilience and the fickle Dunedin weather. For 14 sessions it had been the best weather for a Test here that many locals could remember. The fifth day's rain, however, should not shift the focus from the fact that without Darren Bravo's nine-and-a-half hours at the crease, and Darren Sammy's gritty 80, this Test would have been done and dusted long before the weather turned. West Indies almost deserved the little bit of help.
Although New Zealand stumbled to 44 for 4 against Shane Shillingford, the partnership between Ross Taylor and Corey Anderson had calmed nerves, bringing the target down to 33 as the rain began to threaten before tea. The radar showed it was coming - although not in the strength that developed after the break - but there was no great urgency from either batsman and no major concern when tea was taken five minutes early at 3.05pm. The players did not return despite brief optimism. The ground staff attempted to remove the covers while full of water, to hasten a restart, but they were too heavy to lift. Anyway, a few moments later the rain was back.
"You are obviously judged by your results," McCullum said after the game. "When you've not won a Test since I've taken over it frustrates you, but we did everything we could to win this Test match and I believe we'd have won if it hadn't rained. We've had some lows during the time as well, but I firmly believe we are performing pretty well in Test cricket and sooner or later the wins will come. We just have to keep persevering and if we get the odd slice of luck go our way then those results will follow."
Having lost a clump of early wickets, New Zealand were clearly uncertain about having a dip before tea, even though Taylor and Anderson had settled. Anderson clubbed the occasional boundary, but Taylor was content to largely tap his way along. There are plenty of Otago players in the dressing room so you would have thought no lack of local knowledge about the potential for the rain to emerge. Saturday had always been the most uncertain day of the Test weather-wise.
"It's not often you get through five clear days of sunshine in Dunedin," McCullum said wryly. "We never really got ourselves in a position in that chase to really put the hammer down. We had a feeling it was going to rain at some point but weather watching is never a great strategy when you're trying to set up a chase."
New Zealand will have to be honest with themselves, though. They had the chance to wrap up this match much earlier; the return catch offered by Bravo on 82 was especially costly but on the final day Peter Fulton, despite his height, could only palm a ball over his head when Tino Best lofted Ish Sodhi. He only batted four more overs, but how New Zealand would have loved those four overs to bat.
Then there was the way they began the chase. They are not a team used to winning and it showed, a little like at Lord's earlier in the year when they could not convert a promising position. Hamish Rutherford shot was especially poor considering the long-on fielder had been pushed back. When McCullum skied his sweep it meant they had to rebuild, and it cost them vital time. A target of 112, with anything like a solid base, should have been reachable in 30 overs.
"We just wanted to try and be positive and play our natural games in a chase of that size," he said. "A couple of us played some shots that were too far on the aggressive side for what was needed at that time."
As in Auckland, so much impressive cricket had come to nothing. The return to form of McCullum was one of the significant outcomes of the Test and he admitted it was a weight off his shoulders even though fitness concerns persist.
"I don't think I've played under that much media or public scrutiny throughout my career," he said. "To be able to come out the other side of that and score a hundred under pretty tough external pressure, but also internal pressure from an injury point of view, was reliving more so than pleasing.
"Still it was very disappointing I wasn't able to be there at the end today. Sometimes you make poor decisions in clutch moments and if I had that moment back I would. But overall it's a step in the right direction and hopefully I can eradicate a few of those errors that crop up."
A few minutes earlier, as the rain momentarily abated to raise brief hopes of a resumption, the PA system at the ground had played the Johnny Nash song, I Can See Clearly Now with the lyrics: "It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright, bright sun-shiny day." It's doubtful whether McCullum would have seen the funny side of it.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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