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February 4, 2014

Kiwi fans, soak in this winning feeling

Paul Ford
New Zealand fans have to deal with a sense of impermanence when it comes to victories  © Getty Images
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It's been an extraordinary fortnight for the New Zealand cricket team and its dragon-skinned but long-suffering fan base. It was nice to hear the captain, Brendon McCullum, acknowledge the resilience of the team's supporters at the Cake Tin on Friday night as he was interviewed in front of a plastic splashback wallpapered in logos.

On Saturday I left the treacly voices of the Alternative Commentary Collective , preposterously intrusive music, and urine-yellow seats of Westpac Stadium behind to pop through the gate at the end of my neglected garden and absorb some low-level club cricket viewing at Ben Burn Park.

There are no seats and the only noise is from the rasping cicadas and distant lawnmowers. Clouds meander past overhead, brushing by like a pod of albino whales in the sky, their shadows racing over the club cricketers and the park's dry grass. I watched as a bowler called Rupert scooted in off about five paces, with a style that was not in any textbook ever written. He bowled with essentially no front arm - choosing to forget the old coach's instruction of pulling the chain before unleashing the windmill of the arm with the ball in hand.

From the Beehive end, a big bloke muscled in and bowled a sequence of atrocious deliveries: wide, wide, wide. Then he barrelled in with an inswinging yorker that crashed into the batsman's poles. "Ha haaaa," roared the skipper. "Do you call that your three-wide set-up mate?" That particular trap might well be in the textbook, probably in the Robert Kennedy or Andrew Penn sections.

And speaking of poles, another batsman called for the helmet to face an awkward-looking pace bowler from the Makara Hill end. The combination of safety headwear and a gentle artificial deck got the batsman's confidence up and he swished into a rollicking pull shot channelling his inner Ricky Ponting. But he wasn't a thin-eyed Tasmanian with 24,000 first-class runs, he was a mere village cricketer and the ball hurtled through his stained cotton pants and crashed into his nether regions.

Guffaws from his team in the shadows of the trees on the embankment emerged. "That should get it working again," said the non-striker helpfully as the recipient of the ball to the box gulped in pain, frozen on all fours on the batting crease. "It's meant to be a standing eight-count mate," someone chirped from the slip cordon.

There's a joy and relaxing rhythm in cricket - the setting and resetting of the field each ball, the thwack of leather on willow, the mid-pitch fist bumps between batsmen, and the occasional high-decibel appeal.

People like me aren't patriotic cricket fans, we just love the game. Sure, we might have a preference about which team wins or loses or draws or ties, but pretty much any game will do.

If you were a New Zealand cricket fan who only watched the game for the joy of victory, you would be clinically depressed by now. You would be among the most embittered sports fans in the nation and you'd probably have Radio Sport's talkback number in your recently called numbers list. You'd ring up and make lots of dumb analogies with rugby - where New Zealand rarely lose, and where, if the All Blacks are defeated, people start punching things and each other.

As a Kiwi cricket fan, you can't afford to be arrogant because there's always a sense of impermanence about the winning. This week beating India in a blackwash one-day series on wickets that were non-discriminatory did feel fantastic. The New Zealand team played magnificently and deserved to win the series comprehensively - it was just so bloody unexpected.

A lot has been made of the timing of the series victory coinciding with the weird wheels of the IPL auction beginning to turn, and as the shakedown and centralisation of cricket power started to freak cricketing geo-politicists out. It's convenient to say it inspired the New Zealand team, but I don't think it was the main factor behind the win.

Most and best of all, they played like a team that cared a lot. They played like they loved being out in the middle of Seddon Park, McLean Park, Eden Park and the Westpac Stadium. That meant they bowled with ferocity in their hearts, and with their heads, set fields that were funky and dedicated to getting batsmen out, protected themselves from batting collapses, looked hacked off if they dropped a catch, and chased every ball to within an inch of the ANZ Corflute signs on the boundary rope.

There was an intensity that seemed to bring the New Zealanders together and this had the side effect of rattling the Indian side. The men in blue looked cool and immaculately groomed but nonchalant and disinterested.

It's time for Kiwi cricket fans to soak it up. Indian fans should be asking for an explanation.

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Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here

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Keywords: Club/league cricket, Fans

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Posted by Speng on (February 7, 2014, 17:38 GMT)

Yeah, great to see NZ back on the comeback trail. After that pretty disastrous tour of the WI a few years ago they've played everybody and steadily gone from failure, to parity, to winning. It doesn't hurt that they have (increasingly) mature batsmen at the top of their games and young hungry quicks who just want to tear batsmen's stumps out.

Posted by   on (February 4, 2014, 16:46 GMT)

Good time to be a Kiwi Cricket Fan... Quite a few talented players. And the rise of Kane Williamson & Martin Guptill seem to have finally given them a rock solid batting lineup, their main weakness for many years now. Also Corey Anderson is one fella to watch out for.

Posted by NALINWIJ on (February 4, 2014, 12:18 GMT)

Nice to see Kiwis win and there is no doubt they will make the quarter finals in 2015 world cup but after that it will be hit and miss. India showed their hand this series when kohli showed that he is an all time great and the rest except Dhoni are flat track bullies and their bowlers are poor finishers and they will also make the quarters and then it will be a lottery after that. Looking forward to a close world cup from the QF stage.

Posted by Mutunga on (February 4, 2014, 11:03 GMT)

Well written, sir. The signs a good with a number of the younger players in this NZ team who may actually prove to be consistent performers. However, you're right - NZ fans will be very wary of getting our hopes up too high. We have seen too many false dawns.

The three wide set-up is a tried and true tactic of NZ pace bowlers. Heath Davis also used it to great effect.

Posted by Manxmuppet on (February 4, 2014, 9:30 GMT)

As an England fan I think I'm going to read this article after every series from now on - I think it applies to us too. Beautifully put Mr Ford!

Posted by   on (February 4, 2014, 8:21 GMT)

Spot on mate...I would love to see NZ,WI,Srilanka,Bagladesh,Southafrica,Zimmers winning more tournaments and more matches...As a die hard cricket fan I would love to see all minnow country coming to the ranks against India,Aus,Eng

Posted by   on (February 4, 2014, 6:27 GMT)

Well put by Mr. Paul. 'Nonchalant and disinterested' were the Indian team. And haven't we seen that for some time. The 4-0 thrashings in England and Australia. It seemed they didn't want to be in the contest at all, and that puts off any fan.

I'd be happier supporting a low-profile team who put their heart and soul into any contest, albeit losing most of them.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Ford
Paul Ford (aka Paul Holden) is a co-founder of the beloved Beige Brigade, the patriotic and long suffering Kiwi supporters' cult that is a bastion of things brown, tan, tongue-in-cheek and tenuously cricket-related. Paul lives in Wellington, somewhere between the Basin Reserve and Karori Park, and his favourite shot is the front-foot pull. @beigebrigade

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