Editor's note: This article was originally published on 23 December, when Brendon McCullum announced his decision to retire. It is being republished as the New Zealand star played his final ODI, making 47 off 27 balls, before seeing his team retain the Chappell-Hadlee trophy with a 2-1 series win against rivals Australia.
Brendon McCullum on Tuesday, 22 December announced that he is going to retire from international cricket in February at the end of the home Test series against Australia. He isn’t going to go to the World T20, instead choosing a home Test series as his swansong.
Cricketers retire all the time, but the ones that cause the most heartache for fans are the those that seem to go too early. In the last 12 months, McCullum has scored 1364 international runs, at times with breath-taking alacrity. He has taken his team to a World Cup final, led them to a record unbeaten run at home in Test cricket and won plaudits for his batting and leadership worldwide.
McCullum’s New Zealand are universally well-liked. He is a class act both on the field, and off it. A good man leading a good team. It is difficult not to start gushing when talking about McCullum and his band of men. He has been willing to attack and has instilled a killer instinct in this unit. At times he pushed it too far but it has always been entertaining.
As a player McCullum will be remembered as a New Zealand great. For a player who struggled for consistency early in his career, McCullum has found a way to harness the excesses of his attacking instincts to become a superb all-format batsman who can win games on his own. When McCullum is batting you need to clear your schedule and find a TV.
He has collected some records along the way, perhaps none more impressive than the fact that he has played in a record 99 consecutive Test matches since he made his debut against South Africa in early 2004. While it is telling that New Zealand have only played 99 Tests in almost 11 years — England have played 149 in that same period — staying fit and in form for 11 years and 99 matches is remarkable. When he departs he will have played 101 Tests without missing one. It is hard to imagine that landmark getting beaten anytime soon.
While 2015 has been a year to remember for McCullum, it was 2014 that was his most memorable. Not only did he score a record number of Test runs by a New Zealander, he also scored the country’s first Test triple hundred in the process. That innings was just remarkable. New Zealand were in serious trouble. They were 94-5 in their second dig and still trailing India’s first innings score by 150 runs. McCullum launched a stunning counter-attack and saved the game in the most thrilling way you can imagine. It wasn’t the same swashbuckling effort that he showed in the first Test of that series when he made 224 off 307 deliveries, it was a lot more measured — but no less remarkable.
Later in the same year McCullum authored an innings so timely that it brought tears to people’s eyes. When news came in that Phil Hughes had passed away, New Zealand were playing a Test against Pakistan in Sharjah. The game was put on hold but when it resumed McCullum made 202 runs off 134 balls in an innings that reminded a numb cricketing world why we love this game. It was as close to batting Zen as anyone will ever achieve.
McCullum’s legacy is secure. He is the captain of a New Zealand team that are pound for pound the best side his nation has ever produced. While in the past New Zealand had great players in decent sides this team, moulded in McCullum’s image, is filled with fine players from top to bottom. Not only has his team been successful, it has found success while playing the sport in the way it is meant to be played. New Zealand have won over opposition players and fans in their droves.
While so many professional sports teams are full of man-babies that try to apportion blame as far away from themselves as possible, McCullum’s New Zealand own their successes and their failures.
There will not be a cricket fan anywhere in the world who will not be devastated by McCullum’s departure, but it is entirely fitting for the man that he goes on his own terms. That he will not play in the World T20 is a massive shame but he will no doubt continue to ply his trade as a T20 specialist for a few years yet. It will be a lifestyle that will allow him to set his own schedule, make a decent living and be at home with his family far more often. It will be the owner of a cruel heart that begrudges him that.
For New Zealand they have a chasm to fill, both in terms of leadership and batting. The most likely candidate is Kane Williamson who recently became the No.1 Test batsman in ICC rankings. There is little about Williamson that suggests that he won’t be successful as the New Zealand captain, but his side will be different.
Time will tell if different is better or worse.