Do you remember it? That feeling of hope, that soaring faith?
Like watching a wave develop a few hundred feet offshore, gradually gathering size and momentum, then rolling towards you with an unstoppable force?
The hope of a Kiwi cricket fan was perhaps at its greatest during the 2015 Cricket World Cup, co-hosted on our shores. Hearts swelled, pulses quickened and eyes widened at the very real possibility that this could be it.
BlackCaps fans had ridden a few waves in their time, most of them petering out to a gentle trickle on the shore, rather than a tidal-wave force. But 2015 was different. The team had played consistently well in the lead up. We had a squad of good blokes who happened to be great cricketers, which endeared them even further. They had mostly sailed under the radar nationally and beyond. Over the span of six weeks, momentum built steadily until suddenly, everyone was talking about cricket and daring to dream. Kiwis were enthralled, proud and hopeful.
And those of us who had been there for the long haul were giddy, wondering, hoping. Perhaps this was our time. Perhaps we would be rewarded for years of loyalty in the face of indifferent results. This could be it.
At the same time, we were trying to suppress the nerves, because deep down, we knew. We’d ridden that wave before.
True Kiwi cricket fans have been burnt in the past, sometimes even charred, and are wary of letting expectations inflate. Aware of how the last two World Cup finals have gone. Knowing that when we hype our performances and ability to match anyone in the world, on big stages like MCG on Boxing Day we shuffle away with a heavy deflation.
Despite all that, it’s back. The energy, the tension, the waves. The hope.
Hope. It carries a lot, that word. We punch above our weight traditionally, and recently, it’s been other countries recognising our progress, our skilled players and all-round team performances. We have the bowlers, and the batters. Our fielding is generally of a high standard. Yet there’s a certain discomfort that sits awkwardly for Kiwis when we talk about ourselves as high achievers, and it’s unusual to be considering ourselves up there as one of the top two test sides in the world. Not only for historical cricket reasons, but also tall poppy reasons.
There’s a nervous optimism following these matches against a stuttering English side. A reluctant optimism, perhaps, because the higher the hopes, the harder the fall. But this has been an English side with Broad, Anderson and Root. And we’ve had two different sides perform well, with contributions from experienced players and fresh talent. In fact, the second test looked more like a second XI, and they took 20 wickets inside four days.
So now, India. Big names, big reputations, big expectations. But the gritty battlers of Aotearoa have risen to hold reputations of their own now. It doesn’t matter how we got there, how many tests we played or who they were against. You would expect a side with six players in their respective Top 10 world test rankings (Williamson, Nicholls, Southee, Wagner, Jamieson and de Grandhomme) to be competitive, and have every chance of winning. (For what it’s worth, India have five players across the rankings – Kohli, Ashwin, Sharma, Pant and Jadeja.)
Here we go again. This could be it. The hardened Kiwi cricket fan has a sobering moment thinking ahead to this game, and what it means. The BlackCaps, our national men’s cricket side, once skittled for 26, more recently 45, have now topped the test rankings and have the opportunity to be crowned test match champions of the world, rewarding several years of consistent performance. We’ve been lucky to experience a taste of this sensation in the last two World Cup campaigns, but this is different. This is test cricket, and the purists are fizzing with a growing effervescence, bubbling away at the potential outcome at the end of these five days. This means more.
Cue the caffeine, the snacks and the blankets, and the energy drinks to survive the daylight hours.
This could be it.
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