Throughout this World Cup and indeed, the preceding summer, under the leadership of Brendan McCullum, New Zealand has played a powerful and passionate brand of cricket. It is ‘do or die’ from the outset. This is best exemplified by McCullum himself. New Zealand has reached their first World Cup final, denying the South Africans their first final berth. The Proteas went about losing with their usual heart-breaking flair but I don’t know if you could say they were less passionate than the Black Caps. Judging by the number of South Africans crying in the aftermath and the mucussy looking substance that Morne Morkel was producing as he wept, there could be no denying how much it meant. However, there was recent discussion by the Australian Podcast Panel over whether the Kiwi fans are the most passionate at the moment. It is a good question and one worth considering.
But first, we should reflect and celebrate on the Black Caps making their first World Cup final. It surprised me to learn that this was their 7th time in the semis. It had escaped my notice that New Zealand reached the semi-finals of the first two World Cups. And then four more before this year. And of course, we should commiserate with the South Africans who have been unsuccessful in all four semi-final appearances. As usual, it was close and as usual, the loss was underpinned by calamitous events. Without dwelling on it, AB de Villiers botched a run out of Grant Elliott (who ultimately made 84 not out and smote the winning six) when Elliott was 33 and the match was at a crucial stage. The drama was heightened as AB spilled the return and it was bodies, balls and bails everywhere but not in the correct order for South Africa.
Then, in the penultimate over, Elliott skied two pull shots. It was possibly the only two occasions in the whole match when top edges didn’t go for six on that tiny ground but there it was. The ball came down with ice on it but it was there for the catching. The first time saw Hash and Faf ably avoid a collision but unfortunately, that action saw neither of them lay a hand on the ball. Four balls later, the skier when straight down the throat of Behardien but sadly, I would assume that having watched the calamity four balls later, JP Duminy was determined that this ball was not going to hit the turf. He ran at full tilt into the path of Behardien and the ball did hit the turf. I guess that might be dwelling on it.
From there, the New Zealand victory seemed to be an undeniable torrent. Vettori conjured a boundary at precisely the right moment, turned over the strike and Elliott cleared the fence. Just like that. It was exciting as it seemed inevitable. And didn’t the crowd of 40,000 lift the roof. Why wouldn’t the Kiwis be excited as a critical run chase in a vital match reached an exciting and ultimately successful crescendo? Does that make them more passionate than other fans? It is hard to compare and reach a definitive conclusion but the Kiwis are impressive in their dedication to their sporting teams. I once heard Rob Sitch say (in an episode of “A River Somewhere”), ‘To call Rugby a religion in New Zealand is doing a disservice to Rugby’. How true and that fervor can and does extend to any sport when New Zealand is doing well in it. Sailing, League, equestrian, middle-distance running… Cricket.
The Kiwis are a small nation. They hate being seen as Australia’s smaller, Antipodean brother. They hate being overlooked by the Aussies. They hate it when Australia steals their film and rock stars. For these reasons alone, the Kiwis love beating Australia at anything. It is a fact that Australia does not play New Zealand enough at cricket. The statistics on that are shameful. Adding that to everything else, the Kiwis really love it when they bore it up the Aussies on the cricket field.
Australia is also a small country but not in cricket terms and not in recent decades. I don’t know how many semi-finals the Australians have made but it must be at least seven including this one. I know that because they have made six World Cup finals and won four. Australians love to win but hunger does provide a certain passion and that might be reflected in the Kiwi fans (and players). Australia is yet to book their place in the final. If they do, the final will be played with a lot of feeling. I think New Zealand will find the change of venue difficult. They have not played outside New Zealand in this World Cup and there will be less friends on Sunday and more metres to the boundary.
Whatever happens, it was a cracking match last night. A night to remember for all Kiwis whatever happens on Sunday.