February 2001. Pukekura Park in New Plymouth, the most beautiful cricket ground in the world. Grassy recreations of Inca temples on three sides, ocean views on the fourth. I am there because I am paid to watch and write about cricket. The best of times.
The match is the third of a series of four-day games between the under-19 representatives of New Zealand and South Africa. I am looking forward to my first chance to watch the New Zealand captain, who has scored centuries in both preceding games. His name is Brendon McCullum.
He comes in at No 6, when the 16-year-old Ross Taylor is out. Soon, New Zealand are 93 for five. McCullum’s response? Attack. His third hundred in three matches comes up in 121 balls. As soon as he reached his century he was caught behind, playing loosely.
He returns to the pavilion furious with himself for giving it away. For most 19-year-olds, three centuries in three games would be enough. Not Brendon McCullum. There was a double there and he wanted it.
Don’t think that getting to the final will be enough for Brendon McCullum.
September 1967. Herne Bay, Kent, 5.30 am. I am eight. I am catching a bus to go to Lord’s for the first time. Kent will get the glory years under way by beating Somerset in the Gillette Cup final.
There have been countless fine days in the sun since, but I have always assumed that nothing in later life could match the excitement of an eight-year-old’s anticipation of a big game.
Turns out I was wrong.
June 1975. Back at Lord’s for the first World Cup final. Australia are all Chappells, fast bowlers and Aussie self-belief. But the West Indies have some exciting young players, an inspiring captain who leads the way with a century, a former captain who has been around for 18 years to steady things and they field like banshees.
They also have a point to prove.
For New Zealand, this World Cup has been excitement and surprise from the start. England’s capitulation, Williamson’s six, Guptill’s double hundred, Vettori’s catch, every moment of the semi-final, McCullum’s nuclear batting, McCullum’s brain whirring away.
New Zealand has been consumed with cricket this week, if anything more than it was with the rugby world cup final in 2011, bold though that claim may seem. The nation will stop at 4 30 this afternoon.