Top drawer McCullum deserves rich praise

Mark Greatbatch has doffed his faded cricket cap to fellow marathoner Brendon McCullum.

The New Zealand coach did not have to look far before finding much to admire in McCullum's head-turning salvage operation to save the second test for the tourists against India here yesterday.

The Otago batsman produced an extaordinary innings of self restraint to score a test best 225 and shepherd the tourists to a safe haven of 448 for eight declared in their second innings on the fifth and final day at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.

He slaved through 544 minutes and 308 deliveries to deliver the result his team needed, as they were placed under pressure for most of the five days but still emerged to ensure the series goes on the line in the third and deciding match starting at Nagpur on Saturday.

"I think it's a real credit to him, he's a great competitor," Greatbatch said after the tourists forced a second successive draw against the world's top ranked test nation after beginning the last day at 237 for four, holding an overall lead of just 115 runs, with McCullum already on 124, his sixth test century in his second outing as a specialist top order operator.

"Nine hours of batting in the second innings in India, not too many guys do that," said Greatbatch, who knows a thing or two about batting against the clock to save a test for his country.

Greatbatch himself once devoted his entire being to denying Australia, digging in for five minutes short of 11 hours to score 146 not out to ensure New Zealand drew a match in Perth in 1989.

The times have changed and the conditions and circumstances were vastly different but McCullum's powers of concentration and reserves of stamina drew immediate parallels with Greatbatch's efforts of 21 years ago.

"It takes a lot of focus and a lot of getting the mind right," Greatbatch said of a skillful show of defiance that thwarted India's best attempts to force a result, even if they were missing pace spearhead Zaheer Khan for a large chunk of the innings with a groin strain that has ruled him out of the last test.

McCullum became only the second New Zealander -- after the late, great Bert Sutcliffe, who made 230 not out at New Delhi in 1955-56 -- to score a test double century on Indian soil.

His partnership of 124 for the fifth wicket with rookie Kane Williamson was crucial early yesterday as the 20-year-old Williamson showed a maturity beyond his years to relieve the pressure on his senior partner.

Fresh from scoring 131 on debut in the drawn first test at Ahmedabad, Williamson this time made his presence felt with a very heady 69, prompting the Indians to probe for weaknesses outside of his tight technique.

Greatbatch revealed the hosts endeavoured to bait Williamson by word, but the youngster turned a deaf ear to their verbal jousting.

At the other end, McCullum was allowed to slowly set out his stall of defiance, which remained intact even if he later took the opportunity to showcase his trademark one-day and Twenty20 strokeplay with the odd scoop and reverse sweep.

But for the most part McCullum stayed true to his new role of opening the innings, of showing the opposition limited chances to prey on his well known adventurous streak.

The 29-year-old is not about to get carried away with his heroics, in just his second test at the pointy end of the order after 52 outings as a wicketkeeper/batsman tucked away at No 7 on the batting card.

"I tried to bat for a period of time and I had to constantly fight to rein myself in as well," McCullum said.

"It's one match but it is a decent start.

"I definitely want it (opener's role) as mine but I am not going to get too carried away after having only two tests in the role.

"I will be judged at the end of my career on how well it has gone."

They are just the sort of words to warm the heart of a coach who appreciates that one swallow does not a career make.

NZPA

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