McCullum survives the storm as hosts eye safety
When Brendon McCullum's batting and whirlwind are mentioned in the same sentence it's usually evidence of a Twenty20 or one-day blitz. This time he braved the gale-force conditions and at stumps was on the verge of a determined century. Along with his captain, McCullum dragged New Zealand back into the match with as much obstinacy as the wind that hauled a groundsman several metres while he clung on to the blowing away covers.
The conditions made it difficult for Australia's bowlers but it wasn't exactly easy for the batsmen either, other than hitting with the north-westerly to the Scoreboard End. There were distractions including occasional dust gusts, plastic bags blowing across the ground and the stop-start nature due to bad-light delays.
McCullum took it all in his stride. At 5pm, when play resumed after an 80-minute break, he hooked the first ball from Mitchell Johnson off his eyebrows with perfect timing. Earlier, he had played the same shot and struck it so well that it left the ground and had to be sought on nearby Rugby Street.
That sort of stroke is typical McCullum but it was his concentration that was most impressive on the fourth day in Wellington. He had thrown his wicket away in the first innings with a messy, top-edged pull when resilience was required and he was not about to make the same mistake twice in one game.
He strode to the crease in the morning with Daniel Vettori, a 115-run deficit in their way, and proceeded to bat through the whole day. By the time the final bad-light reading came from the umpires, McCullum was on 94 and had given New Zealand a 67-run advantage and a realistic chance of salvaging the Test.
Tim McIntosh, who made 83 on the third day, said McCullum did not appear nervous at going to bed in the nineties. "I don't think he was actually, he's just being himself and hoping to get out there," McIntosh said. "It's always frustrating when you're on and off the park, with the light the way it was and all that, but I think he dealt with it pretty well. He's playing a really mature innings and a good gutsy one at that.
"We've given ourselves a good chance to save the Test and maybe even get into a position where we can put them under pressure to possibly even win the Test. There's been a few [loose] dismissals in a similar sort of fashion, so we've got some work to do for the next Test. A bit of an example was shown and I think the way Dan and Baz [McCullum] batted is setting a good example for the rest of the innings."
McCullum played his shots when he had the chance and was especially strong on the cut, while also ticking the scoreboard over with good running. He had moments of fortune, like when Brad Haddin missed a sharp stumping chance when he was on 48, but never did his desire to attack overwhelm him.
For much of his innings he had the benefit of batting with Vettori, whose fighting qualities are unquestionable. McCullum was until recently the vice-captain and the responsible way that he and Vettori led their team by example was notable.
Their 126-run partnership shortened the odds of a draw and has even given New Zealand the faintest glimmer of hope for a victory. The Australians know McCullum can bat like a storm, as they saw in his Twenty20 hundred three weeks ago. Now they know he can also survive one.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo