New Zealand still bear Hughes scars
The only time Pakistan really celebrated on Saturday was when birthday boy Younis Khan took two sharp catches at the slips either side of the tea break to provide the hosts a glimmer of getting back into the game.
Younis helped dismiss Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson, but New Zealand continued to pile on the runs on the third day at Sharjah, setting several new records with the bat. Yet, for Taylor, "it was another strange day'' on the field for the team, as New Zealand continued to mourn the loss of a fellow cricketer, Phillip Hughes.
The 297-run, second-wicket stand between McCullum and Williamson set the tone for a series of big contributions from New Zealand's middle and lower order. New Zealand's 637 for 8 at stumps was their highest-ever total against Pakistan in Tests, and the highest-ever total by a team in an innings in the UAE. Their batsmen also muscled a world record 19 sixes.
Add Brendon McCullum's 202 off 188 balls, his third double hundred of the year, you had a day which was a statistician's delight. But in the New Zealand camp, there was no such feeling. They were still finding it difficult to process yet another day of being the dominant side. Before close of play, McCullum sent out a message to Hughes' family through New Zealand Cricket, indicating yet again that he was not in the frame of mind to speak about the cricket.
"If you had told us without the other circumstances we would be very ecstatic and very happy with the day," Taylor said. "Brendon and Kane batted outstandingly well. We would like to celebrate it in better circumstances. But I am sure where we are at as a team we would take it day by day. I am sure at the end of the Test match we might be able to reflect back on it and maybe celebrate it little bit more than we are currently."
When play started on Saturday, McCullum and Williamson continued to bat freely as the run-making appeared ridiculously easy. The best example of that was the nonchalant way McCullum got to his third double-hundred in 2014, with a straight six. But just two balls later, he got out and walked away while briefly raising his bat and shaking his hands with the Pakistan players and his partner Williamson.
Taylor put down the carefree approach of McCullum and the rest of the line-up to the minds being occupied elsewhere.
"I think it just goes a little bit to show, how when you take the pressure away from it in the game situation and just bat like you did when you were a little kid, how things evolve,'' he said. In fact, Taylor believed that the approach of McCullum and Williamson was imbibed by every member of the line-up.
Pakistan coach Waqar Younis agreed with Taylor's assessment and even suggested that the change of approach was because "the momentum was broken" due to no play on the second day.
"There was no real pressure on them. There was definite tension in the ground as well as in the dressing room. Probably that has really helped them play freely. McCullum played very freely, as did Williamson," Waqar said.
McCullum's third double hundred of the year put him in the company of Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Don Bradman, thereby showing that the troubles of leadership has not weighed him down. While Waqar described McCullum's batting as "devastating", he also earned respect of his team-mates. "It has been an amazing 12 months for him [McCullum]. Those stats are up there and they are world class," Taylor said.
But as New Zealand coach Mike Hesson described on Friday, McCullum was hardest hit by Hughes' death, since he had opened the batting with him for New South Wales. Taylor felt that not just McCullum, but the entire squad was still not up to it.
"I think in terms from yesterday to today it is a little bit better I must admit. But I still think we would be, we are still away from where we probably want to get to in the enjoyment factor of cricket again. Brendon and the whole team were just trying to play cricket for what it is."
Taylor himself notched a half-century and added 116 runs for the third wicket with Williamson. Yet, when the duo batted together, it was not like the previous partnerships they have had. There was something missing.
"When I batted with Kane, normally I talk a lot. Today we didn't say much and I think a lot of the times that we did talk, it was more token than anything," he said. "It was once again a very strange feeling and something I have never felt before in my Test career. Hopefully I don't ever again."
Chandresh Narayanan is a freelance cricket journalist and author based in Mumbai. He tweets at @chand2579