Efficient McCullum ticks off another T20 landmark
For one of the kingpins of the T20 game, this was a low-key way to chisel out another milestone. Brendon McCullum has a penchant for the spectacular but his 65 against Netherlands had more of a business-like air, ensuring that New Zealand would overhaul their target with few alarms. It just happened to include his 2000th run in T20 internationals.
Just six weeks ago, McCullum ticked off more than 550 deliveries on his way to becoming the first New Zealand player to score a Test triple-hundred. Last Saturday, he slapped 16 off six balls to take his team ahead of England on Duckworth-Lewis and win their opening World T20 game. Such are the multitudes that the modern player has to contain. McCullum, who has also proved an inspirational captain since he inherited the role in difficult circumstances a little over a year ago, handles the demands better than most.
McCullum had expressed admiration for Netherlands' "rocks or diamonds" approach before the game although here, having been put in to bat, they produced something in between, polished but a little functional - marble, maybe? McCullum's style means he is familiar to the vicissitudes of T20 but, in terms of sparkle, he is the shortest form's Koh-i-Noor.
The only man to score two T20 international hundreds, he painted the skies in Pallekele two years ago in a record innings that has since been broken only by the more obviously heavyweight Aaron Finch. It was McCullum who flicked the ignition on the IPL in 2008, with 158 on the opening night - though Chris Gayle has pinched that marker now, too.
In reaching 2000 runs, McCullum has demonstrated a longevity and consistency at odds with the format. His name is likely to top this list for some time. He has exactly 600 more than his nearest challenger, the outgoing Mahela Jayawardene, who is closely followed by the two other pillars of Sri Lankan T20, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, another soon-to-be retiree. David Warner, young enough and combustible enough to give chase, is more than 700 runs in arrears.
All of which would mean little to McCullum should New Zealand fail to reach the semi-finals. He has already spoken of next year's World Cup as being a more realistic target for the most talented squad of recent memory; but they have a genuine opportunity at this competition if McCullum, Ross Taylor and the likes of Corey Anderson can fire them past Sri Lanka on Monday in what has effectively become a knockout match.
The first job at hand, however, was Netherlands and New Zealand got their heads down like an assiduous white-collar worker rattling through an afternoon of paperwork. After containing the threat of their Associate opponents with the ball, McCullum set the tempo for the chase. A couple of early boundaries were followed by a diligent approach to running singles and he had scored just 35 from 33 balls, with three fours, when he flicked a first six of the innings off his pads over deep square leg.
McCullum is not the burliest hitter on the block but he scores all around the wicket, his powerful wrists adept at hitting on the up over cover or scooping the ball past the keeper. For a fairly small, compact man, he has hands like a blacksmith. Two more sixes followed, closing the gap more quickly now, and although he was not there at the end, neither were Dutch hopes of the upset they crave. New Zealand have usually proved too canny to make such mistakes.
"It's pretty well known across the world what kind of player Brendon is, for him to tick up that milestone is pretty satisfying for him personally and something the team love to see," Trent Boult said afterwards. "He's a massive part of our side and it's nice for him to be contributing.
"We went in with a lot of confidence and we knew we could deliver but it wasn't a guaranteed win, we needed to play well, they're a quality side the Dutch, they've shown they're a cricketing nation. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy-beat win, we knew we had to deliver. A lot of the players stood up and contributed and got us that win in the end."
While this group was not the one designated as life-threatening, it has proved mightily competitive, Netherlands' blooper against Sri Lanka aside. On this occasion, the crowd were able to laze in the afternoon sun, occasionally prodded by the squawk of the PA announcer or a blast of thudding techno straight to the lumbar region. Out on the field, a couple of men in black tapped the ball about as the air shimmered and a new T20 frontier was established. For McCullum and New Zealand, it was just about getting the job done.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here