No tribute to Brendon McCullum can ever be complete without mentioning what he brought to the sport.
Isn’t that the most critical thing about everything we do in life?
Faith is what- you’ll find in books- moves mountains.
Even when we know nothing is going right, it is faith that enables us to keep moving.
Hope is shallow; faith enables you to take the leap. Hope is the drug but faith is the antidote to fear.
And probably nobody knew this better in the New Zealand camp than Baz.
Brendon McCullum batted for a decade and a half.
And nearly every time he went out there, he exhibited nothing but absolute faith in himself.
Surely, his batting may surely have looked brash and carefree. It may even have sprung an idea into the mind of his detractors that he was a bit too indulgent in big heaves.
Too much of risk-taking. Too wrong. Bull shit.
That’s not how you play.
That’s what his critics might call his craft.
If it ever came to a tea-party being organized by conservative or defensive batsmen, surely no invite would ever reach Brendon McCullum.
But think along the lines. It was that relentless belief in himself that enabled McCullum to do what he did.
It was the fearlessness with which he batted, the confidence with which he conducted himself that allowed his New Zealand to take those giant leaps in international cricket.
For most, New Zealand may still be dangerous underdogs. But it was McCullum who gave the team the bite, the hunger, and the appetite for destruction.
Picture the persona of Baz.
He chewed the gum coolly.
What was nervousness? He didn’t know anything about it.
He was- until the final moments of his career after having scored 12500 plus international runs- in absolute control of himself.
He didn’t burst in rage.
Shenanigans didn’t define Brendon McCullum. He never batted for ‘revenge’ even though his attacking style conveyed an unabashed love for the game.
The cameras would suddenly capture a quick clap for a bowler under pressure. They’d know when a warm hand would land on the back of a Sodhi, Southee or Boult.
McCullum’s faith permeated the spirit of the Kiwi contingent.
But you may find that many around you think of McCullum differently.
He was handsome. He was charming.
But, go beyond.
See what lay within the cool dude persona. Go beyond the tattooed muscles.
Brendon McCullum embodied a fearlessness that few brought to the sport. It emanated from the faith he had in his abilities.
Come night or day, he didn’t allow bowlers to settle.
There was hardly anyone but Baz who batted with the carefreeness that seemed as if he just didn’t give a darn.
Certainly, Viv did that back then.
Jayasuriya exemplified it in the nineties.
Afridi tried and often earned the wrath of everyone.
But nobody indulged in ball bashing from New Zealand the way Brendon McCullum did.
Even De Villiers refrained from stroke-making. Even Amla played blockathons.
Baz didn’t need to. He scored over 6000 in both formats of the game, struck the fastest triple hundred for the Kiwis, butchering Dhoni’s India to the delight of his home fans and ended his Test career at a strike rate of 64.
If there was mayhem, Brendon McCullum was its maker.
Today if you were to extend a tribute to Brendon McCullum, it would suffice to say he batted as he felt like.
The match situation didn’t feature in his books.
He proved risk-taking was worth it.
He was evidence that beating the pulp out of the cricket ball didn’t only come naturally to Sehwag.
In the ICC 2011, World Cup, when Vettori was around and Guptill and Taylor were still quite young, McCullum scored 256 runs at an average of 42. His strike rate was around 100. He’d also scored a ton. Back then, he was at the peak of his fitness, being 30.
Who knew he would come back 4 years later, during ICC World Cup 2015 and strike runs at a strike rate of 188?
At 35, a few months before McCullum decided he’d popped gum one too many on the field, turned Williamson into a man of his own, explained Guptill and Taylor that they still had to achieve enough for New Zealand, McCullum exited, but not before striking his magnum opus: that 302.
If you thought fiery batting was something right in the alley of tall men like Pietersen, Gayle, and Hayden, then Brendon McCullum proved why so much importance is attached to the phrase ‘pocket rocket or pint-sized dynamo.’
In his uncomplicated approach to batting rested the enigma of Brendon McCullum.
Perhaps no other sport has changed as much as Cricket has.
There was no Women’s cricket played in succession the way there is now. There was no such thing as T20s once upon a time.
There weren’t live-streaming of games. Blind Cricket hadn’t emerged as a boon to identify talents that would’ve gone otherwise.
But implicit amid all this change, one man remained unchanged, whether he fired those 328 World Cup 2015 runs- his most exorbitant display of stroke-making to this day- or whether in that 158 in the IPL.
That man was Brendon McCullum.
Unsullied by losses, calm in the face of adversity, if the sport needed a brand ambassador for playing high-class fearless cricket then you’d know what name to underline.
Happy 37th Baz!