Brendon McCullum © Getty Images
Brendon McCullum will bow out of international cricket after the second Test against Australia at Christchurch © Getty Images

Let us accept it: Brendon McCullum was nowhere remotely close to being the greatest cricketer of all time; or of New Zealand; or of his time; or among tattooed cricketers; or among cricketers whose surnames begin with ‘Mc’. McCullum’s average is not 40 in an era when 55 seems to be the new 50. He does not belong there — in the pantheon of greats. He never will. He did have an excellent 2014, but that was about it when it came to his Test career. Indeed, take away that single spectacular year, and his average drops below the 35-mark. That is less than Shahid Afridi’s Test batting average, and Afridi quit Test cricket at thirty. READ: Brendon McCullum: One of the biggest impact players bows out of international cricket

With a shade over 6,000 Test runs, he will finish second among New Zealand batsmen, after Stephen Fleming.But Fleming, along with Daniel Vettori, are the only New Zealand cricketers to play more Tests than McCullum. Wright, with 82 Tests, is next on the list, 19 behind McCullum.

It is only a matter of time before Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson go past him. Taylor averages 45; Williamson, 49. Even Vettori scored 4,523 runs.

What, then, was the big fuss about? Why are we going gaga over a man who gave up the big gloves, averaged in the thirties, and did not bowl?

Was it only about captaincy? He won 11 matches as captain and lost 10. That makes him a decent captain, but not spectacular. Geoff Howarth and Jeremy Coney had better win-loss ratios, and Stephen Fleming and John Wright had comparable numbers. His only overseas series win came in West Indies in 2014, but they seldom come anymore.

No, it was not about the results he delivered for the New Zealand team.

On the other side, it was about what he did for New Zealand cricket.

New Zealand have perpetually been the ‘also-ran’s of world cricket. Nobody embodied New Zealand cricket more than Richard Hadlee: systematic, metronomic, often emotionless, efficient, and often vicious. Hadlee was all that, and more, but he ended up being in a team of lesser Hadlees. Had there been a couple more Hadlees, New Zealand could have been the greatest team of all time. READ: Brendon McCullum’s contribution unmatched; would have been key to New Zealand’s chances in ICC World T20 2016

But that was not to happen. All they produced was one Hadlee, just like one Bert Sutcliffe, one John Reid, one Glenn Turner, and one Martin Crowe. They had Cairns, father and son, and the ridiculously unfit yet destructive Shane Bond.

But seldom did they have a strong unit of cricketers together. They do not have a group of superstars now, either. Williamson has shown potential to finish as an all-time great.Taylor, Trent Boult, and Tim Southee will, at best, finish as New Zealand champions.

That was all McCullum had at his disposal. And he managed to change this lot from a bunch of ‘also-ran’s to a unit who looked at every opposition in theireyes with more spunk and chutzpah than they had ever mustered in their sporadically successful history. They have not been a champion team under McCullum, but they have certainly acted like one, ready to catch teams unaware.

New Zealand have lost three of the four Tests against Australia this antipodean summer. Had crucial umpiring decisions gone their way, they could have been up 2-1, or could at least have pulled off a 1-2 result. They could have won a Test and drawn a series in Australia.

New Zealand drew a series in England that they could easily have won. They won a series against India they had no right to win. They trailed by 246 and were94 for 5 in the second innings. McCullum came in and scored 310, still the only triple-hundred in New Zealand’s history. His presence motivated BJ Watling, their wicketkeeper, and Jimmy Neesham, the debutant, to score hundreds: if he can change his game to save the Test, why can’t we?

New Zealand drew that Test. They took the series, for they had won the previous Test at Eden Park by 40 runs. They had won the Eden Park Test, for McCullum had scored 224 in the first innings.

Two Tests. Two innings. India were vanquished.

Nobody expected New Zealand to win at Sharjah after they were trailing 0-1. Australia, a much superior side on paper, had been trampled by Pakistan a month before that.

It was a sombre day in Sharjah. The previous day’s play had been cancelled. Cricketers put their bats out in respect. Wickets were not celebrated, neither were landmarks. McCullum was out there, bat in hand, to pay the finest possible homage to Phillip Hughes. At stumps he was unbeaten on 153 from 145 balls. New Zealand finished on 249 for 1 in 45 overs.

He was out for 202 the day after. His young deputy got 192. New Zealand won by an innings to level the series.His next innings, back home against Sri Lanka, was a 134-ball 195. Nobody has scored a double-hundred in less than 153 balls till date.

In that one year, from that 224 to that 195, McCullum had scored 1,164 runs at 72.75. He had scored four hundreds, of which the lowest was 195.

And with McCullum’s rise came the rise of New Zealand as a unit. They have not lost a series at home in five years now. Of their last 13 Tests at home they have won 7 and lost 1 — the previous Test at Wellington. Before that phase the numbers read won 44, lost 61.

But McCullum’s legacy goes beyond that, for he did something few captains in international cricket have done: he dared.

McCullum did not redefine New Zealand cricket: during his period at the helm, he was New Zealand cricket.

He was the man from the least fashionable cricket nation who got people hooked to television. This, despite being from a country where Wright (Test strike rate 35.3) and Bruce Edgar (30.1) opened batting at one point of time, and competed with contemporaries Graeme Fowler and Chris Tavare asguaranteed cure for insomnia.

McCullum breathed life into a teamwhere the Test batting line-up invariably involved grafters around one or two stars. He painted the black-and-white montage that went by the name of New Zealand cricket in ridiculously dazzling shades. He made cricket fashionable in a country where sport is often synonymous withrugby.

McCullum brought New Zealand into international limelight when he lit up the first ever IPL match. All of a sudden people realised that he had been around for some time, donning the gauntlets behind stumps, boasting more ink than flesh on thosebulging forearms; he, just like New Zealand, had been there, but that was just about it.

That one innings sent India and world cricket into a frenzy they have seldom encountered before. That single innings announced the arrival of McCullum. But more importantly, the innings began the rise of New Zealand that eventually culminated to a World Cup final.

He is not Viv Richards II, for he is not as disdainful. He is not Virender Sehwag II, for he is not as unconcerned. He is not Chris Gayle II, for he does not take time to settle down. He is Brendon McCullum I, nothing more, nothing less: going after the first ball, after the last ball, and everything in between, connecting more often than not, deciding matches in minutes, sending crowds into ruptures, jotting down every scoring shot on a near-emptymap of New Zealand with a Sharpie.

Vettori was called Dan, Fleming was Flemo, Paul Wiseman was Whizz, Ross Taylor was Rosco, and Martin Guptill, Shane Bond, and Paul Hitchcock, somewhat predictably, were Two-Toes, James Bond, and Alfred. Even Hadlee and Crowe became Paddles and Hogan. Even big brother Nathan is called Mattress.

Brendon McCullum is Baz. None of theothers is Baz, for despite their varying levels of quality, none of them played cricket like a rock-star.With McCullum there was never a moment’s respite for the spectator. He lives the entire spectrum of what-a-shot-but-he-may-get-out-next-ball again, and again, and again.

For every single ball he faces. Every. Single. Ball.

In limited-overs cricket he lived and died by the sword. If you switched the television on after the eighth over you would half-expect to see New Zealand 65 for 1, McCullum gone for a 21-ball 52.

He bats like Attila in whites as well. He defends or plunders. He saves or wins — and sometimes perishes in the process — but more often than not comes out on top these days.And then, when chips are down, he unleashes the Gandhi mode. Ask Zaheer Khan, who never played another Test after McCullum’s 13-hour vigil at Wellington.

All that will end after this one final hurrah at Christchurch. He has walked out to toss in a cricket World Cup final, something no other New Zealand manhas done.He replaced Taylor at the helm and won him over almost immediately. He has saved and won Tests for his country. He finished as the leading run-scorer in T20Is with nobody else on the horizon.He brought the crowd into ruptures. He made the world follow New Zealand cricket on television, internet, print…

And he has done all this while winning the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award.

Better cricketers? Plenty. Better captains? Many.

Better role models? Keep thinking.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)