By Harbour Heather
Eighteen months ago we purchased tickets for all the Blackcaps pool games, the quarter final, semi final and final. Expensive, yes, but when I did a cost benefit analysis at the time, I knew it was something I wouldn’t want to miss. Turns out I had no idea what we were going to be a part of.
This piece is brought to you by someone who has been through it all. I idolised Nathan Astle. As a teenage girl I didn’t obsess about movie stars or boybands (okay, maybe Westlife) – my room was covered in newspaper cut outs of batsmen. I broke into my savings to buy the Astle 222 commemorative print. We didn’t have Sky growing up so I drifted off to sleep to Bryan Waddle’s voice more than I’m comfortable admitting. My email address was Astlefan. I’ve had to cop it from all comers for twenty years about how bad our cricket team is, that they choke, they can’t beat anyone better than Bangladesh (and for a moment in time we couldn’t even beat them) – ‘Why don’t you follow the All Blacks instead?’
True fans were daring to achieve long before the ads told us to, and after the semi final, I cried, whole hearted sobbing for a good ten minutes. My team, our team, was going to the Cricket World Cup Final. And I was going to be there. Magical.
The hype reached its peak Thursday and Friday. Envious colleagues wished us well. Bandwagoners came from all directions wanting to know if we’d booked extra tickets. Auckland Airport was swarming with Blackcaps fans, with sly smiles exchanged between those on board. We were the lucky ones. The captain was sure to give a weather report for Sunday and wish the team well. Everyone we spoke to on arrival knew what we were there for, and I could sense a smidgeon of doubt, perhaps even respect, from the general Melbourne public.
Saturday dawned bright and buzzing. Federation Square and the streets of Melbourne were packed with people, the local Comedy Festival and street performers adding to the festivity. Beige, teal and grey covered the streets, with optimistic high fives, confident chirps and smiles all around. I got the feeling we Kiwis were all just happy to be there, knowing we’ve earned it, but that the job wasn’t done.
We went to the G to watch the team’s final training. 20 spectators grew to 50, which grew to 100. TV crews showed up from both sides. TV3 and Channel 9 spotted us. The local crew asked me, amongst other questions, “Sledging isn’t really the Kiwi way, is it? Do you see that changing?” I gave some diplomatic answer about how this approach had got us this far, why change? Only one more step. What I really wanted to say? “Dickheads can win the World Cup, but you don’t have to be one to win one.”
The MCG merchandise store was doing a good trade more than 24 hours out. The black end of the shop was busier than the yellow. People with differing accents approached and wished us luck, saying that they all wanted us to win. As much as I’d like to think this was down to our team and the brand of cricket we’ve been playing, I feel any team playing this Australian side would have the support of the rest of the world. Aussie may have had the home ground advantage, but we had the ‘no one else wants them to win’ advantage.
We tried the event Veitch organised, but with a packed pub and line stretching down the road, we decided against it, but not without the addition of a #BackTheBlackcaps shirt. It was great to witness the Kiwi ‘inferiority complex’ in the flesh – a whole pub packed full of Kiwis desperate to get one over the big brother, full of belief that now was our best chance yet. Recent form was on our side.
Sunday we woke early, how could you not? I’m sure people back home did the same. More canary yellow on the streets than the previous day. Over confident newspaper headlines, even a column saying ‘We must take revenge on them for attempting to give us Paul Henry.’ Overheard: “I’m sick of losing to New Zealand; rugby, league… I’m over it. I believe in the law of averages, we’re going to win.”
Our flag capes and team gear earned us some looks on the train, but we never copped any grief. Not once did anyone lay into us. The MCG filled with yellow, but the cheer when Brendon won the toss proved there were loud pockets of black. Emotions peaked (sadly…) at the anthem. A full MCG, the biggest game of all New Zealand cricket fans’ lives (including the 11 on the field). The sun was out, the world was watching. We were ready.
But, the rest is history. If only…… Even the bloke next to me wished Baz had fired. “He’s pretty bloody good actually.” Others could’ve fired but didn’t step up. As a cricket fan, not just someone there to see New Zealand win, I appreciated the applause Clarke got on his way to the crease, and the ovation when he left, victory imminent. To witness a record-breaking crowd stand for one of their own was a sight and sound to behold. Further, while I wished it were different, it was memorable to see a home town crowd celebrate their champions. Khe Sanh has never been sung so passionately.
We suffered the papers the next day. There were plenty of Aussies on the streets, flags flying proudly. Thrashed, emphatic, world-class were all words used in the broadsheets. We knew better than to go anywhere near the civic reception in Fed Square. There were still Blackcaps shirts around, however the optimistic high fives had been replaced by soft, knowing smiles. Ah stink.
Nine pretty amazing games. Six weeks of extreme patriotism. But I’m most proud of the way our team plays the game. I’m not sure we can tar all the Aussies with the same brush, but with a little bit of Swedish rounding, they’re pretty much all prats on the field. If that’s the ‘winning edge’ I’m glad we don’t have it. We made the final playing excellent cricket, without (highly visible) name calling, chest-beating or gesticulating. Even the Aussie papers admitted it; an article on B. McCullum and his approach was titled “Doesn’t he know he’s supposed to be the bad guy?” They seemed baffled that he, the high performing captain of the opposition, was a nice bloke. Imagine that?
It’s been a hard slog as a cricket fan in this country. The national side, no matter their moniker or uniform colour, have never been reliable. Unless you were after unreliability. Horrendous inconsistency was the name of their game. But this team has given us something special. Cricket is a wonderful game, and we’re finally doing it right.
As our great leader has said, this has been the time of our lives. I was there, from the first ball to the last. And I’ll remember it forever.
Thank you boys.