I’m a cricket tragic. My earliest memory is asking my Dad “Why did that man roll the ball along the ground? And why did the other man throw his bat?”. But until today, I had never seen the Blackcaps win a Test with my very own eyes. I haven’t been able to say “I was there”.
The first cricket match I ever attended was a New Zealand vs Pakistan Test in 1985, at the Basin Reserve. I was eight years old. We sat in the RA Vance Stand. It was freezing (day 5 was abandoned, as the scorecard tells me, and the match ended in a draw).
I stood with my Dad on the boundary as he chatted to a promising young Pakistani fast bowler, who would debut later that series. Wasim Akram, that is.
I spent summers watching cricket at the Basin through my university years, the 90s. The lean years of NZ cricket. I’ve reframed horror days where New Zealand only took three wickets all day into positives: “I watched Lara make a century”.
I learnt to never buy an advance ticket beyond day 3 of a Test match.
Life, study and work got in the way, but once I could afford a pay TV subscription, I became an avid viewer of Tests once again. I watched famous New Zealand victories from my lounge.
I moved to Australia and fell under the spell of the mighty MCG. I watched England claim the 2010 Ashes. I rushed home from work in Melbourne on a Monday in 2011, listening to ABC radio en route, willing my team to pull off a miracle in Hobart. And they did. But I wasn’t there.
I travelled to England in 2013, having secured tickets to the Test at Lord’s in the ballot. So much hope and optimism, all for naught. It was 10 degrees and I wore more layers than I would to the rugby at Eden Park. I rocked back and forth in my seat, willing my team past the infamous 26. They made 68. And of course, they lost.
I watched from Australia, full of FOMO as Brendon McCullum made his 302 against India at the Basin in 2014. I stayed up till all hours of the night watching New Zealand win Tests in the UAE. The knot in my stomach whenever New Zealand would come out to bat slowly loosened. I began to enjoy watching the team bat. But I wasn’t there.
There were one day games, World Cups and the odd T20 in between. But none held the sway that Test cricket does. Maybe a World Cup win feels as good to watch as a Test victory. I’m yet to find out.
And then, December 2019. The Boxing Day Test at the MCG. All of the hope from all those years, backed up by a team that had real talent, and a world Test ranking to match. As I recently described it, I’ve reframed that too. “I went on a shopping trip to Melbourne. I just spent four days relaxing, looking out at an expansive lawn first.”
2020 did away with any plans. But in a rarity for me, I had time off work and decided to come to the Bay Oval for days 3-5 of the first Test against Pakistan. The opposition against which my live cricket experience began. I only bought a ticket for day 3 in advance though. Old habits die hard.
I rediscovered my love for watching Test cricket live at the ground. The catch-ups with fellow lovers of the game. The conversation with a woman attending her first ever cricket match, who asked questions like “Why are two of them [the umpires] in black pants?”. The kids in Blackcaps and White Ferns replica shirts swarming around the boundary, hunting for autographs. The scent of hot chips doused in tomato sauce. The #BankReckons, progressively more outlandish as the day wore on. The hot lap races of the perimeter, leading the players to look up in confusion as the crowd cheered off-field action. The unique feature of fans being allowed on the outfield during the lunch break. Even the hailstorm on day 3 had its charm. The Bay Oval is a ground for lovers of Test cricket, and I can only see it enhancing its reputation with time.
From day 4, I have a memory that I don’t need to reframe. Tim Southee got his 300th Test wicket for New Zealand. The larrikin, the pest, the party boy made good, now a senior leader in this impressive team. And I can say that I was there. I will probably also never forget the sight of Neil Wagner limping in between balls, but giving his all as he bowled for his team.
Day 5 was classic Test cricket. All three outcomes still in play, gritty batting from Pakistan, and frustration crept into the Blackcaps’ bowling and fielding. Hope started to fade. But then, in the dying light, it was all on.
And finally, today, 35 years after I first went to a Test match, I got to stand and applaud a Blackcaps Test win. And it was worth every year of the wait. Better yet, I leave confident in the knowledge that it won’t be the last. I was there.
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