For nearly 30 years, Viv Richards has sat on top of the list of fastest Test centuries. Few men have come seriously close to usurping King Viv, like Adam Gilchrist did at the WACA in 2006-07. His 57-ball effort was one short of Richards' 56-ball hundred, scored against England in Antigua in 1985-86. Misbah-ul-Haq then equalled Richards' record in Abu Dhabi in 2014-15. But it took Brendon McCullum to break it.
McCullum's 54-ball century against Australia at the Hagley Oval came with a boundary slapped over extra cover off Josh Hazlewood, and viewers around the world knew that a world record had been broken. But McCullum himself insisted that he was unaware of the milestone until it had been announced over the Hagley Oval loudspeaker and flashed up on the big screen.
"No idea," McCullum said after play on the first day. "I was trying to hit every ball for four or six. I wasn't aware of the record but very respectful of all those who've held it before. It'd be nice to win the Test match, that'd be the most important thing.
"[Viv Richards] was my idol growing up. It's nice to be able to go past him but jeez, he was a cracking player, an incredible cricketer. I'm almost a bit embarrassed to go past him, to be honest. Hopefully he enjoyed a bit of the 'stroke-making', we'll call it."
McCullum had some good fortune along the way, most notably when he slashed a delivery from James Pattinson and was brilliantly caught by a diving Mitchell Marsh at gully. However, the umpires checked the replays and confirmed that Pattinson had delivered a no-ball, the third time this summer that he had cost himself a wicket in that way, after his no-balls twice reprieved West Indies' Carlos Brathwaite at the MCG.
"I thought it was four as soon as I hit it, then I turned around and it was their third great catch of the day," McCullum said. "Steve Smith's catches were phenomenal as well. We talked about that they do push the front line a little bit. You're always hopeful but you don't anticipate it actually being a no-ball so it was quite a nice reprieve. It probably loosens you up a little bit and relaxes you a bit more. You know you're probably not meant to be out there so you might as well play with even more freedom."
Initially, it did not seem that this would be McCullum's day, after he again lost the toss on a green pitch and Steven Smith sent the hosts in. But more or less as soon as McCullum walked out to bat with the score on 32 for 3, his fortune turned. Asked when he got the impression this might be his day, McCullum was honest.
"Probably second ball when I had an almighty, filthy slog and it went over the slips cordon for four," he said. "When you're confronted with wickets like that you know you're going to have to be pretty aggressive and need some luck, and we got quite a bit of luck. That partnership between Corey [Anderson] and I was great fun but also instrumental for us to hopefully set the Test match up."
"I've been on the other side many times and you walk off and think 'jeez if I'd reined it in a little bit who knows what would have happened'. On that wicket the feedback from the boys was that at any stage the ball could have your name on it. I tried to be as positive as I possibly could and hoped things would roll our way.
"When Corey came out he played aggressively and we started to get some momentum. We were able to knock them off that difficult length at the top of off stump. If you're just trying to hang in there on that wicket, around the top of off stump, you're in big trouble. It's nice when things come off."
The partnership of 179 between Anderson and McCullum set New Zealand on the path to a first-innings total of 370 from just 65.4 overs, which was a remarkable performance given the helpful conditions for Australia's fast men. McCullum joked that "about 120" seemed like it might be an acceptable score on that pitch, before refining his comments and declaring that "anything over 200, we thought, you're in the game".
"We saw at the Basin as well that that wicket actually dried out a little bit quicker than what we hoped for," he said. "For us it was a matter of trying to score our runs as quick as we could so the pitch didn't have the opportunity to dry out too much. "In the end, we faced 60-odd overs and the ball still went around in that last session as well. I think tomorrow morning's really important. It seems to do a lot more in the morning session here so we've got to be on our lengths. If we bowl well, we'll get some opportunities. Then it's a matter of whether we take them or not."