At Christchurch, February 20-24, 2016. Australia won by seven wickets. Toss: Australia.
Hagley Oval exists as a Test venue only because the 2011 Christchurch earthquake damaged Lancaster Park, but it remains one of the few places in the city where the ravages of the disaster are not evident. Ten minutes' walk from the rubble and construction sites that make up the central business district, cricket fans find themselves in idyllic parkland, carpeted by oak saplings along a quiet creek, then emerge from the trees to find a ground like a saucer in the lushness, circled by green banks and with a tiny pavilion.
This was the setting for Brendon McCullum's last roll of the dice as a New Zealand cricketer. But the dice didn't simply land right: they produced the most remarkable streak of his hard-gambling career. On the list of fastest hundreds, Viv Richards, Misbah-ul-Haq and Adam Gilchrist had occupied the top three spots, all scored from the comfort of the third innings while setting a declaration. McCullum - whose only other Test innings here, against Sri Lanka in December 2014, had brought him 195 off 134 balls - walked out at 32 for three, on the first morning of a Test, on a lively pitch, against fired-up bowlers…and went faster than them all. New Zealand's eventual defeat felt almost immaterial.
His second delivery he aimed at midwicket - and cleared slip. His fifth, the start of a Marsh over, was lofted straight for six, his 101st in Tests, one clear of Gilchrist's record. McCullum played a limbo-leaning cut for four two balls later, then immediately a coverdrive for four more. His trademark shot involves charging at fast bowlers, making room towards leg, and using that momentum and space to deploy either a diagonal carve over cover, or a flat-batted carve over point; either tends to carry for six. This time it was cover's turn. Marsh's over cost 21.
Williamson fell after lunch, and then came the moment. On 39, McCullum's slice to gully was superbly snared by a diving Marsh. Pattinson, in for the injured Peter Siddle, celebrated, but now it was Australia's turn to be informed of a no-ball - and this time the call was accurate. McCullum needed no further invitation, pulling the next ball through Hazlewood behind square for four. On ESPNcricinfo, the commentary read: "No, Baz, no, this is not a free hit." His fifty came up outrageously, from 34 balls - a Bird bouncer so short McCullum leapt off the ground to reach it, swatting a forehand over the long-on fence. Hazlewood returned, having bowled ten overs for 11: he was about to bowl four more for 57, with McCullum making 49.
When he had 82 from 48 deliveries, with seven balls to break the record, he hooked at Hazlewood and missed, then ducked out of the way of the next delivery. Now, from successive balls, came a top edge for six, a pull-drive for four, another top edge, this time for four, and the signature shot over cover. The hundred had taken 54 balls, with 16 fours and four sixes. Euphoria was rolling through the Christchurch parkland.
Anderson played his forgotten part, as the pair put on 179 at a rate of 9.76 an over, the highest in Tests for any stand over 150. Between lunch and tea alone, New Zealand added 199. By then McCullum had departed for 145 from 79 balls, having slashed 21 fours and six sixes in four minutes over two hours. (Only Rodney Redmond before him had scored a century in his final Test for New Zealand, though in Redmond's case - against Pakistan at Auckland in 1972-73 - it was also his debut.) Anderson fell soon after, for 72 from 66, and Watling contributed a 57-ball 58. When New Zealand were dismissed for 370, they had scored so furiously that there was still time for Australia to face 20 overs before stumps, which they negotiated for the loss of Warner. For the hosts, however, the magic ended there. Wagner would claim a career-best six for with a sustained bouncer attack, but it took him a day and a half. Burns dug in for his most important century to date - passing Ian Redpath's unbeaten 159 at Auckland in 1973-74 as the highest Test score by an Australian opener in New Zealand - and Smith kept vigil during a third-wicket stand of 289. A stubborn 60 from Voges damaged his average but helped his team. It hardly mattered that Australia's last six fell for 67.
New Zealand began batting again before tea on the third day, 135 behind. From 105 for four, with McCullum making a 27-ball 25 (and adding one final six to his Test tally), Williamson and Anderson saw out 44 overs. Then, in the space of eight deliveries, Bird removed Anderson with the old ball and Williamson, for 97, with the new; Southee followed in the same over. Henry smashed a maiden Test fifty, but Bird eventually claimed him and Boult to complete his first Test five-for. Australia chased 201 with ease on the final day, finishing the series with the top four
run-scorers and top three wicket-takers. But there remained little need for New Zealand memories to extend past day one.
Man of the Match: J. A. Burns.