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The Power and the Passion

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.

From Quaint to Gaudy

On Sunday night I attended my first ODI Cricket World Cup match for 23 years. While being confronted with a wall of music, noise, advertising and colour, I reflected on how times have changed in those 23 years. Yesterday, I noticed a headline on Cricinfo referring to how quaint the first World Cup was. I didn’t read the article but looking back 40 years, the game of limited overs cricket is almost unrecognisable. I would not describe that first World Cup as quaint. Perhaps quaint in comparison but I would describe 2015 as gaudy.

I think of that first World Cup as fresh, free and unbridled. It was played with a spirit of exuberance and the final produced one of the greatest games of limited overs cricket ever, partly, as luck would have it, because two of the greatest teams ever played in that final. Perhaps it was quaint because in those days, cricket had not be been swept with a wave of advertising and marketing. Players were still paid peanuts and there was still a lot of white: outfits, fences, site screens, pavilions. And now days, about the only white you will see is the new ball. Perhaps it was quaint in 1975 because limited overs cricket had not become a science. It had not become specialized, a different game really. You could certainly say that players (mostly) applied a different approach to a game but there were no fielding rules, no specialized tactics and certainly no specialist one day players.

By the time I attended my first World Cup match in 1992, things had changed but I would say that ODI cricket was still closer to 1975 than 2015. From the Kerry Packer World Series Cricket revolution in the late seventies, we had become used to coloured outfits for ODI cricket. However, I have etched in my memory the Australian team doing a lap of honour at Eden Gardens in rather grubby looking whites, so I conclude that 1992 was the first World Cup played in coloured uniforms.

By 1992, One Day cricket had certainly become its own game. There was some innovation (NZ opened the bowling with an off spinner) but the approach was rather cautious. There certainly was no ‘going over the top’ in the first 15 overs. That would not be seen until next World Cup. The match I watched was the semi-final between South Africa and England. This match is best remembered for the farcical end which highlighted the arcane rules when it came to rain interruptions. South Africa needed 22 runs from 13 balls when a light shower occurred. Play was suspended for just 12 minutes. The players returned to the field with plenty of time for England to complete the overs but the rules stated that the match had to be reduced by one over for every five minutes the players were off. And Duckworth and Lewis were still pawing over spreadsheets at this stage so there was no D/L method. The rule at that time was that the least expensive overs of the team batting first were deducted from the target. As there had been two maiden in England’s innings, zero runs were deducted from South Africa’s target. So South Africa now needed to score 22 runs from 1 ball.

What I also recall about that match was that it had been reduced to 45 overs already even though there had been no rain. This was achieved by South Africa bowling their overs so slowly (because they were being belted) that they only managed 45 overs in the allotted time. Now that was a rule that needed changing! It’s hard to feel very sorry for South Africa at all.

The run rates were 5.6 for England and 5.39 for South Africa. That is not too shabby but note that not a single six was hit. This would be for several reason – lesser bats, full sized boundaries and different approach.

When I entered the SCG on Sunday, 8 March 2015, I was struck by the colour. ICC WC2015 colours where everywhere: All over the stands, including the members. I was at first puzzled by the second fence, inside the usual fence, in addition to the boundary rope. Soon enough it became apparent that the inner fence was a series of LCD screens so that advertising could be maximised. The scoreboard told you more about the major products than the match. And the music was loud and frequent. It played whenever there was no cricket, whenever there was a four (which was often) and at the fall of wickets. I have not been to a T20 and I haven’t been to an ODI match in years so it was all rather shocking. I know I am a traditionalist but I wouldn’t say I’m a purist. Well, I try to be pragmatic anyway. I realise that One Day cricket pays the bills and I accept that the ICC rules the roost and does whatever the BCCI wants. So I will put up with the music.

I did some market research, too. I asked my 21 year old daughter (who is a Test match follower) if she liked the music. She said that as long as she knew the music and it was songs she liked, she didn’t mind it. I also asked a Yankee friend of mine what he thought seeing it was his first cricket match. He said it’s what you get at baseball and he didn’t mind it. It’s important for us all, including me, to remember that cricket is trying to reach new audiences.

And the match itself was something quite different to 1992. The influence of T20 was apparent as it has been for the whole tournament. In addition to new approaches, there are better bats and more field restrictions so every match (almost) is a run feast. I do feel for the bowlers but it sure takes the boredom out of the middle overs. Almost 700 runs in a match at the SCG is some kind of record and with Sri Lanka giving the chase a good shot and their fans going wild, it was a great experience.

Clarke goes over mid off

Clarke goes over mid off

This one happened to go for six

This one happened to go for six

Maxwell demonstrates a 2015 shot

Maxwell demonstrates a 2015 shot

That one went the distance

That one went the distance

Maxi makes it to 50 with a maximum

Maxi makes it to 50 with a maximum

Malinga to Watson

Malinga to Watson

Maxwell finally makes 100

Maxwell finally makes 100

The Member Stand with ICC trim

The Member Stand with ICC trim