Friday, 3 April 2015

Column 8, 2015 – Backing the Blackcaps

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 111, Friday April 3, 2015.
[Full text below]

I shouldn’t have bet on New Zealand. I don’t bet much, but World Cups are an exception. I made a couple of quid when the Windies won the WT20 in 2012. I didn’t on England in 2010 – a wise old gambler once told me: if you care about it, don’t bet on it.

New Zealand vs Australia was the best game of the tournament. No, not Sunday’s one-sided anticlimax, the group game back in February. It had everything. Attacking and defensive batting, tremendous swing and spin bowling, tension, drama, 19 wickets and a knife-edge climax. All in 55.3 overs. To cap it all, the good guys won. The perfect ODI.

I’ve watched it four times already. Most recently with my 12-year-old nephew, who didn’t know the result.

A right arm seamer with a naturally fluid action, Jude is probably already a better cricketer than me. If he’s not now, he will be soon. He’s been training with district coaches this winter, and if he keeps playing as he gets bigger and stronger, he’s going to be a very decent quick.

He is, self-confessedly, a less gifted bat. We had a great discussion last weekend about number 11s, and just how crucial a nought-not-out can be to keep an innings alive, so the guy up the other end can get the runs. Then we settled down to watch Milne and Southee’s ducks to spearing Starc yorkers, and Boult (the number 11 whose 5-27 had surely earned him the right to put his feet up) survive the rest of the over so that Williamson, the number three stranded up the other end, could hit the majestic, nerveless straight six that won the game.

Boult is at the heart of my favourite World Cup story, from the New Zealand Herald. His girlfriend is a pretty 24-year-old blonde called Gert Smith. (Her real name is Alexandra, Gert is a family nickname because her younger brother couldn’t say Alexandra. You like her already, don’t you?) Gert is a primary school teacher in Tauranga, on the Bay of Plenty. Since her charges have discovered that ‘Miss’ is going out with a national sporting hero, she’s been bribing them. They get tokens for good behaviour, and she’s promised that if they get to a hundred, Boult will come and visit the class.

New Zealand nailed this World Cup. The way they played, the way they were led, the way they behaved.

They had obvious respect for their opponents, even as they went at them as hard as they could. Relentlessly aggressive, they were never less than friendly. Committed and unified, they did not gloat or goad, send-off or sledge. They played with character, won with humility, lost with grace.

Unimpeachable role models for primary kids in Tauranga, 12-year-olds in England, and doubtless thousands more across New Zealand, they were terrific to watch.

I should not have bet on them because, the more I watched them, the more I cared that they won.

Congratulations Australia. Dammit.

- ends 498 words -

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