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McCullum hopes to be remembered for positivity

The Hagley Oval ground announcer must have thought long and hard about his task. What song could be most fitting for the moment when Brendon McCullum led New Zealand out for his final day of Test cricket? It was hard to argue with his choice of The Boxer, even if it was the Mumford and Sons cover and not the Simon and Garfunkel original.

"I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains."

On the first day of this Test, McCullum took the fight to Australia with such vehemence that it left Steven Smith flummoxed. A 54-ball century, the fastest in the history of Tests, gave New Zealand the upper hand. Australia wrested control back through centuries to Smith and Joe Burns, but even when his bowlers failed to find swing in Australia's chase, McCullum was trying things. Mostly bouncers from Neil Wagner with a heavy on-side field.

The plan slowed Australia's scoring but was unable to prevent them from winning the Test, and gaining the No.1 ranking from India in the process. When the winning runs were struck, an Adam Voges boundary through cover off Trent Boult, McCullum was standing at first slip. He walked over to the man at gully, Kane Williamson, and gave him a handshake and a hug. It was like a symbolic handing over of the team.

Williamson has been named New Zealand's captain for the upcoming World T20 in India, and is expected also to be their next Test skipper. McCullum has brought a particular style to the New Zealand captaincy; under him the players have enjoyed their cricket, played an attacking brand, and been unafraid of losing. McCullum was asked after the match whether Williamson's team would have a different approach.

"That's a good question and what the coach and I were discussing just before," McCullum said. "We've got the enjoyment and the culture spot-on and everyone is very relaxed and we play the game for the right reasons and everyone has bought into that. We'll see from the next group of leaders.

"They're a little bit younger, and a bit more professional than what I am - I'm probably a bit more old-school - and that will assist in being able to take the team to a more consistent level. If there's one criticism of us, we've probably been a little bit inconsistent with flashes of brilliance. The next stage for this team is to reach a high-performing level on a consistent basis."

Consistency has been lacking from New Zealand over the past couple of years. They drew with Pakistan in the UAE and with England in England, but against Australia this summer they have finished on the wrong side of a 0-4 ledger from the five Tests away and at home. What they have done, though, is enjoyed their cricket. "Positive" is how McCullum would like to be remembered.

"The latter part of my career is when I realised that, when you're almost at a stage that you weren't enjoying the game, when you come to that realisation, you try to get back the innocence of why you started playing the game in the first place," he said. "I was lucky enough that that eventuated while I still had the opportunity to go out and spend three or four years in the latter stage of my career.

"As a good team man, it would be nice to be remembered. As a guy who played for the right reasons and who, if in doubt, was prepared to take the positive option. Hopefully, the guys that I've played with will remember you as a good bloke as well."

In his faded black cap - or black and white, such is its fraying - McCullum spoke after the match of his enjoyment of the game, and others spoke of enjoying watching him play. At the post-match presentation, Richard Hadlee echoed the words of Viv Richards, who after McCullum broke his record for fastest Test hundred described him as the kind of player who "put bums on seats".

It was an approach that McCullum believes arose in part from New Zealand's win over Pakistan in Sharjah in November 2014, in a Test that was postponed for a day due to the death of Phillip Hughes. That tragedy, in some ways, put things in perspective for the New Zealanders, who went out and played without pressure or expectation. McCullum scored 202 from 188 balls, and Williamson made 192 from 244.

"Sharjah was a huge moment for us as a team," McCullum said. "That was a catalyst for a lot of the free-flowing cricket that we've seen, without the inhibitions of worrying about what may go wrong. We almost stumbled through tragedy on a style of play for us which kind of worked.

"That was a really tough time to be involved and to be an international cricketer, let alone a captain. When you've got to ask a team to play a game during those circumstances, I think it galvanised us as a group. I look back proudly on how our guys stuck together and built the soul of our group during that tough time."

McCullum and then Australia captain Michael Clarke spoke after that period of the close bond between the two nations and Clarke's successor, Steven Smith, led his men in a guard of honour when McCullum walked to the pitch on day one in Christchurch for the first innings of his final Test.

"Brendon has been absolutely magnificent for the world of cricket," Smith said. "He's a great ambassador for our game and a terrific leader for New Zealand, he has been for a long period of time. We just had to see the way he played in the first innings to score the fastest ever Test hundred, it was testament to the guy as a character.

"They were under the pump there, but he really went out and took the game on and got them into a pretty good position on that first day. He has had a terrific career and I wish him all the best for his retirement."

It wasn't the only guard of honour McCullum received. His own team-mates provided him with a more private one on the final morning of his Test career.

"You never foresee that that level of respect that Steve Smith and the Australian team showed with that guard of honour would ever eventuate," McCullum said. "Having said that, it was a nice touch and a very nice touch from our boys today as we went out on the park, in the changing room, away from the cameras. We had a very similar guard of honour I guess, which was very nice. It's time to move on, I think."