This week, our esteemed (and uninjured) sports commentator Joshua Jayde thinks back on simpler times.
In every relationship, there’s that one moment where everything else fades away and you realise you’re hopelessly, incurably in love. As time passes and other memories disappear, this one stays with you, reminding you of all that is good, all that is beautiful, untouched by cruel reality. In sport, too, there’s that moment, the one where you realise that you love everything about it. Whether it was when you watched Richie McCaw lift the Webb Ellis Cup into the Auckland sky all those years ago, or if it was simply scoring your first ever goal when you were six, from that point on you’re addicted for life.
For me, that day was back in 2015. The Cricket World Cup was in full swing (haha… get it? Swing? …no?), and I went to see the Black Caps take on an imperious Australian side who were taking the tournament by storm. Imagine it – the crowd, vibrant and buzzing like a Friday night at Shadows; the stadium, clad in shining colours, glinting in the brilliant sunshine; the Australians, in their yellow, so bright against the perfect green grass that it blinded you just to look at them. Then there were our champions, BMac’s fighting Kiwis, the great slog-it-and-hope heroes that would go on to etch themselves in our sporting history. They were in that blue and black kit which had set the country ablaze, arguing whether in fact it was white and gold (yes, that was four years ago. Feel old yet?).
From the first ball, you could almost reach out and touch the tension in the air. Every ball was met with gasps; every boundary was met with sighs as the Australian openers bashed their way to a quick start. Oh well. This was Australia after all, we didn’t have much of a chance anyway.
But in a second, the game changed. The red lights flickered and the crowd rose as Finch missed one on the stumps. The roar echoed through the city and the excitable buzz intensified as everyone settled, faces as bright as the sun gently roasting us from above. The game started to settle, before again Southee struck; then Vettori found an edge to the keeper and suddenly, the indomitable Australians were being ripped to shreds. Wicket after wicket fell, each accompanied by a signature Boult smile, and we were all in shock. Surely, this couldn’t be happening?
Some late resistance from the tail brought Australia to a measly 151. At the break, it still seemed too good to be true, sacreligious almost. The New Zealand openers walked out to a raucous cheer, and they began by smashing 11 off the first ball, Guptill guiding a no-ball to the boundary before thwacking the free hit into the stands. We had this. The crowd settled into a late afternoon, slightly boozy and very comfortable haze, as our batsmen fought their way towards the total. In front of me, a fight broke out as a man scribbled obscenity on another man’s poster. The Aussie bowler Mitchell Johnson, who had been hit harder than a man scribbling obscenities on another man’s poster, received all the love of the Kiwi crowd as my section serenaded him, applauded his efforts and called to him as he fielded in front of us. Life was good.
Until it wasn’t. They took a dinner break in the middle of the innings, and when they came back, everything became a little tense. At about 70 for 2, the spearhead quick Mitchell Starc (yes, all Australian bowlers are called Mitch) found some form and started chipping away at our batsmen. We edged closer to the total guided by Steady-The-Ship Kane, but despite him the ship began to tilt towards the iceberg of defeat. With three wickets remaining, we only needed six runs to get. Easy. But then Mitchell Starc lit up the wickets. The crowd went silent. Surely not. The very next ball, those flashing red lights betrayed us again. No. We can’t lose this. Not now. Not to the Australians.
Boult, our hero and very worst batsmen, came out to face the flying pace of Starc. The bowler ran in. I couldn’t watch. All we heard was a loud crack, as Boult flung his bat out to somehow keep Starc out. One more ball to face. He ran in again. Boult missed. But so did Starc, the ball going wide of off stump. From the other end, Pat Cummins ran in only for Kane Williamson to send the ball back over his head, cool as you like, and to put the Eden Park crowd in raptures. We would go on to lose to the very same team in the final a few weeks later, but just in that moment we were the champions, and I was in love.
An Editorially Mandated Footnote
Yes, fine, next week I promise I won’t write about cricket again.