By Jim Birchall
After the BlackCaps pure performance over India in the World Test Championship (WTC) final, the side’s achievements will rightfully assume position alongside the special moments of New Zealand’s sports history.
While much has been made of Captain Kane Williamson’s humble, almost hesitant celebration of this watershed moment in sporting time. When coupled with the acquisition of the “nice guys finish first’ tag, the small window of adulation for an unfancied band of scrappers has already curtailed thanks to an angry mob of (mainly) Australian cricket ‘enthusiasts’ polluting sports social media pages with diatribe regarding the set up of the WTC. Many are of the (surely learned) opinion that cricket’s showpiece has been set up in a way that the best Test side in the world (read: Australia) has been nefariously excluded from their birthright.
Stand-in captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine (the modern Mike Brearley) couldn’t resist a less than subtle poke at the bear this week when asked about how the final would wash up. Predicting India to win “comfortably “. Paine was presumably basing his deductions on his side getting their sandpaper-filled pants pulled down by India at the ‘Gabba in January. Furthermore, the BlackCaps’ underwhelming, unprepared performances in a 3-0 drubbing in the lucky country 18 months ago would have no-doubt shaped Paine’s perception. Surely a bunch of plucky Kiwis were just window-dressing the new concept, offering gentle, match referee-friendly competition for an underdone India? Did it provide motivation for Kane and his team? Probably.
Whilst I am being a little facetious, Australians play cricket hard. There is even a case for saying it’s their raison d’etre. Countless instances of on-field insubordination over history can attest to that. They also love to win. Not love like a pisshead loves a kebab on his way home from the pub, but a deeply-ingrained adoration for the game that in the past provided a theatre and the opportunity to stick one up mother England.
New Zealander’s in the main feel the same about rugby union. When the All Blacks lose, which thankfully isn’t often, social media opinion becomes an uncontrollable storm of rage and recrimination. We are probably just as guilty as our cobber mates of looking for excuses as to why we didn’t make the final of various Rugby World Cups and we are not shy in dishing out the vitriol in response to a perceived slight. The slight often being something as trivial as an Australian commentator daring to say the Wallabies played better. Cue the inflammatory discussions around the referee and how the Aussie’s got ‘lucky’.
Maligning New Zealand, and in particular, our sporting successes is part of our Australian cousins’ DNA. After years of arrogant reluctance to even play NZ in cricket, begrudgingly games against little brother are now tolerated, although NZs abilities are still condescended by a metaphorical pat on the head- much like Scooby-Doo might to keep his nephew Scrappy in line.
Antipodeans have always fought side by side under the ANZAC banner, and we share many of the ideals of hard work, looking after your mates and a pioneer spirit. That’s why it’s disappointing that in New Zealand’s moment of triumph, all friendships appear to have been chucked down the proverbial dunny.
“Let’s see you play the Aussies in a 5-test series in Australia then see how good you really are mate” replied Kevin, a hydraulic hose-fitter from Brisbane, to a comment I made on Wisden daring to congratulate the BlackCaps not long after their win. Shaun, an ‘expert’ commentator according to his profile badge, made the argument that none, yes none of NZ players would make the current Australian test lineup, and NZ holding the newly-minted mace is an affront to the cricket gods, who surely will right this wrong over the next two-year cycle.
The old adage of ‘play what’s in front of you’ doesn’t appear to apply to the Kevins’ and Shauns’of this world. Should the BlackCaps have turned down a shot at winning their first major title since 2000’s Champions Trophy because the competition may be structurally unsound? A similarly absurd opinion has been trumpeted by South Island rugby fans here in NZ. The Blues, primarily made up of Auckland-based players and headquartered in the city, won their first Super Rugby competition in 18 years last Saturday in a final bereft of the traditional rivals and perennial winners, the Crusaders. The makeup of the 10-team Trans-Tasman league, which is essentially a construct of the truncated NZ and Australian competitions, meant the over-achieving mob from Christchurch missed the final based on bonus point technicalities, and in the majority opinion, had the rug pulled out from under their feet by the organisers.
Notwithstanding the fact that this was the first time the WTC had even been offered as a concept, ironically to boost fledgling viewership of the 5 (6)-day game in places like India. Points have been awarded over the last 2-years and some trial and error is inevitable. Virat Kohli at least let the dust settle for 24 hours before his disparaging comments about the need for a 3-test series to decide a more deserving winner. While this has merit for future competitions, in a world where logistics required for sport have been overwhelmed by the Covid monster, a final (albeit a wet one), is surely a satisfying conclusion to a two-year search to find the kings of the red ball.
Other armchair aficionados have said a 5-test series (with home and away options) is the only fair way to settle the debate, while others have promoted the idea of a timeless test, which isn’t the worst idea but becomes redundant on the back of India being bowled out twice. So why just let New Zealand enjoy this ride while it lasts? We know we are completely outgunned and dwarfed by player numbers compared with our closest neighbour, and pretty much every other continent that plays the game. This is the BlackCaps and NZs moment in the sun, and perhaps people should just let the green and gold-eyed monster fester in Gath until the start of the next test cycle where Kane and a new generation of kiwi upstarts will have another chance to see if David slays Goliath.