New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum insisted the time was right to quit international cricket today despite hitting one of his best innings just days earlier.
It was not the way the 34-year-old wanted to retire, as Australia completed a 2-0 series sweep by winning the second Test by seven wickets.
But McCullum did mark his swansong in trademark fashion, setting records for the fastest century and most sixes in Test history (107).
When the match ended, with an Adam Voges four getting Australia to the 201 they needed for victory, there were emotional scenes as McCullum led his side from Christchurch’s tree-lined Hagley Oval.
Australian captain Steve Smith, not out 53, ran over to shake McCullum’s hand.
When New Zealand had needed patience to occupy the crease for long periods of time to save the Test, McCullum could not hold back his natural aggression.
He smashed a first innings 145 in 79 balls, including the first ever 54-ball century, and 25 off 27 in his second bat.
But despite his own heroics, what mattered most for McCullum was the result and it did not turn out as wanted in his 101st and final Test.
“It’s not the ideal way to go out but at the same time, I’ve had a great time,” he said. “We’re obviously disappointed to lose the Test match and the series but the right team won.”
As he shut down his international career there were no tears from McCullum, although he was moved by a guard of honour by the Australians.
McCullum has been sidelined by a back injury in recent weeks and he said he knew it was “time to move on”.
“The time’s right. I came to that realisation when I made the decision and I knew I could steel myself for another couple of challenges,” he said.
“Hopefully I’ve left and brought some fun and enjoyment and some real culture back into the set-up in the time that I’ve had as captain.
“When someone’s career winds down, other cricketers want to show their respects in some way as well. You never foresee that level of respect that Steve Smith and the Australian team showed with that guard of honour would ever eventuate.
Reflecting on his career, McCullum said he now felt relieved it was all over.
“What comes with the good times also comes with its challenges. You walk away knowing that you’ve been able to front up and try to go out there and get a performance on the board and I guess now you’re a little bit relieved,” he said.
He said he hoped to be remembered “as a guy who played for the right reasons and who, if in doubt, was prepared to take the positive option.
“Hopefully, the guys that I’ve played with will remember you as a good bloke as well.”
McCullum finished his Test career with 6,453 runs at an average 38.64. He scored 12 centuries and 31 half-centuries.
His swashbuckling style has produced multiple records. He is the only New Zealander to score a triple century, with 302 against India two years ago.
He also holds the record for the most consecutive Tests, never missing a game since his career began in 2004, and he is New Zealand’s second most successful captain with a winning percentage of 35.48, behind Geoff Howarth’s 36.66.
In Twenty20 internationals, where his big hitting was welcomed, he holds world records for the most runs (2,140), most centuries (two), most 50s (15), most sixes (91) and most fours (199).
He scored his fastest ODI 50 in 18 balls and has hit four ODI 50s in 20 balls or less, second only to Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi who achieved the feat six times.