Brendon McCullum demonstrated why he's considered one of the world's premier Twenty20 batsmen last night against Bangladesh.
He made the highest score in Twenty20 internationals with 123 off 58 balls as part of New Zealand's 191 for three to open their World T20 tournament. McCullum took the match away from Bangladesh who compiled 132 for eight to lose by 59 runs. Barring freakish results from here, New Zealand should make the Super Eight stage.
McCullum (or simply Brendon as the scoreboard addressed him to distinguish from brother Nathan) bristled with intent. He might have the highest aggregate of international T20 runs (1566) by virtue of longevity but he now owns the top average (38.19) for the highest 20 run scorers. He is the first player to get two centuries in T20 internationals.
McCullum was equal parts bludgeon and finesse, giving his wagon wheel an even coverage of spokes. Slogging was largely banished.
His bat must have looked like a barn door and the stumps like candles on a three-year old's birthday cake to the Bangladeshi bowling attack. Highlights included a waltz down the wicket for a six over cover, playing with the left-arm orthodox spin of Shakib Al Hasan. A forehand swat over long-off was unconventional but effective off Mashrafe Mortaza. The Sri Lankan military contingent with their backs to the game must have felt like they were involved in live grenade practice with McCullum clearing the boundary seven times.
McCullum also demonstrated precision bisecting the field to maximise his runs and paced his knock with a quiver of singles early. The innings hinted New Zealand might well see the best of McCullum under his former Otago coach Mike Hesson.
"Twenty20 suits my style of play," McCullum says. "I always want to be aggressive. I got the hang [of that wicket] early and picked up the pace about when and where I'd be required to go for the boundary. The ball was kissing the pitch quite nicely in the first [Bangladeshi] over but after that it was pretty true. It didn't spin a great deal."
Bangladesh are one of the weaker tournament teams but their threat was real leading in, especially after their 4-0 victory over New Zealand in the 50-over format during 2010. New Zealand was also sent in on a pitch with a greenish tinge. McCullum, with support from James Franklin in a second-wicket partnership of 94 from 65 balls, annulled any fledgling Bangladesh hopes.
"It was tactically smart to send James up the order to create that left-right combination inside the top three," McCullum said.
"Whilst he didn't score at a strike rate of 200 he played an important part in the partnership. His ability to get ones and chop and change angles was something we should be proud of. Bangladesh's left-arm spin has given us problems in the past so it was nice to put that [problem] out to pasture. I was just pleased to make a contribution, especially with the uncertainty surrounding pool play."
New Zealand benefited from a thorough preparation. They stacked the Thursday practice nets with left-arm orthodox bowlers to mirror Bangladesh's attack. The resulting shot selection was meticulous.
McCullum's innings overshadowed the confidence Franklin will have built opening the T20 innings for the second time. His 35 off 36 balls including 17 singles was the anchor which allowed McCullum to free his arms. The left-right combination with regular strike rotation did not allow Bangladesh to settle into a rhythm.
Adding to their woes was sloppy fielding. There were a number of misfields and a spilt chance off McCullum on 92.
New Zealand's bowling and fielding avoided complacency with the safety net of 191 runs. Tim Southee coped well with the ball, recording the best figures of three for 16 after his stomach bug. Kane Williamson showed a safe pair of hands with three catches.
The only genuine blemishes included the centurion wicketkeeper spilling a chance off Mushfiqur Rahim, but his teammates could probably afford to forgive him. Daniel Vettori also put a catch down off Ziaur Rahman from long leg in the 17th (and final Kyle Mills) over which had little impact on the result.
New Zealand plays Pakistan on tomorrow night in their final pool match.
Andrew Alderson flew to the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka courtesy of Emirates Airline (www.emirates.com/nz).