By Euan McCabe
It’s drawing rather a long straw to suggest that any game of cricket has ever actually brought this country to a stop. But what else could I call this segment? More realistic alternatives such as ‘Those that kind of stopped a nation’ lack the necessary decisive punch.
So rather than literally stopping the nation, the criteria here for selection are those Test matches where something abnormal occurred in terms of the public response. For example, those matches where people who would normally never show the slightest interest in cricket cannot help but be drawn into the unfolding drama. And sometimes in large numbers. It is always most amusing when you notice those people who ordinarily say things like “God, cricket is soooo boring” suddenly living every ball. I dedicate the memory of the following games to you:
England at Wellington, February 10-15, 1978
NZ 228 & 123
England 215 & 64
New Zealand won by 72 Runs
I cannot be sure of the response across the rest of the nation as I was actually one of the chosen few inside the Basin Reserve lucky enough to witness the single most exhilarating, hedonistic and emotional session of cricket ever played in this country – the final session of Tuesday, February 14, 1978.
In this session a fired-up combination of Richard Collinge and Richard Hadlee, assisted by some unusually inspired fielding and a delirious crowd, reduced England to 53 for 8 in its second innings (with retired-hurt Brian Rose also down the road in Wellington Hospital) and left New Zealand on the cusp of a first ever Test match victory against England.
One thing I can report, however, was seeing grown men celebrating in the streets on my walk home through the city afterwards. People were outside pubs on the footpaths along Willis Street in an era before people drank outside pubs on footpaths. And these people had not even been at the Basin. Some were even dancing with delight. Alcohol no doubt played a part, but this was also an era before people in New Zealand engaged in overt behaviour in public, such as dancing with delight on footpaths; sober or otherwise.
It is difficult to explain to younger people today just how much this win meant for cricket in New Zealand. Beating England today is just one part of a much wider cricketing landscape, but back in 1978 almost half our prior Tests had been against England – part of the MCC’s self-imposed duty to help develop cricket around the world; while it had taken 48 long years before finally cracking a winning breakthrough.
And the wider implications of nationhood were also at play. New Zealand had only officially adopted God Defend New Zealand as a National Anthem (as a replacement for God Save the Queen) a year earlier. So it was a vastly different country to the one we live in today. The 1947 Statute of Westminster marked the moment when post-Treaty New Zealand could first make all of its political decisions without reference to London; but Richard Hadlee nicking out Bob Willis at the Basin Reserve three decades later was the actual moment when New Zealand finally left Home.
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