Thursday, 19 March 2015
World Cup Double-down
With a strange klang of synchronicity, whenever All Black fans herald the arrival of a ‘World Cup year’, rugby union fans who also love cricket get double-down in the same year. It’s a crowded sporting calendar, and things will often butt up against each other, yet this cosmic alignment of New Zealand’s most popular summer and winter codes is a treat. It makes for a super-sized version of the usual convergence we get at the start of every year, when cricket’s domestic and home international cricket season oozes into the start of Super Rugby.
Yep, it's 2015 and the ICC Cricket World Cup returns to Australia and New Zealand, last here in 1992 when our own team rode a massive wave of popularity and form, using with innovations still talked about in one day cricket. That was in the days of The Young Guns.
Now, I know this is an All Blacks blog. However, I think it is worth pointing out that there is something very All Blacks-like about the way our Black Caps have turned things around in the last two-and-a-half years.
Remember the dark place our rugby team was in post-2007? Well, just think of all the turmoil this cricket team and management went through since late 2012: A new, not widely known coach, the scrappy removal of Ross Talyor as captain, the low point of being dismissed for a pathetic 45 runs by South Africa in the first innings at Newlands, a less than perfect tour of England, and losing one day series in Bangladesh (for a second consecutive time) 3-0. Throw in Jesse Ryder's off-field column inches, and the intrigue of fudge-packing Player X, and frankly you had an environment that would make Kurtley Beale prefect material.
Put flippantly, “What a difference 3 years make”. However, in reality, the blokes in charge of this team - mainly Coach Mike Hesson, Selector Bruce Edgar, Manager Mike Sandle (ex-Blues), Batting Coach, Craig MacMillan, Bowling Coach, Shane Bond and Trainer, Chris Donaldson - have built an impressive off-field support structure that beautifully compliment’s skipper Brendan McCullum. There seems to be a calmness, a focus that lets a very well prepared & confident team just get on with what it wants to do on the field: play well, play hard, play fair. There is also a depth in the squad at the moment that reinforces this notion of a real ‘plan’ in New Zealand cricket. Enough depth to allow for a Plan B.
I have been quite humbled by McCullum’s tenure as Captain of this team. His aggressive batting style used to frustrate me; I couldn't work out which side of the genius/madman line he was on. In the last two seasons though, he has proven he is world class. If you get the chance to listen to him talk, in anything longer than a soundbite, you will hear a thoughtful, erudite, and humble speaker who repeatedly talks about the values he wants to be the DNA of this team. How much he wants to perform for his team, his country and his fans. He wants to make us proud. It seems cricket has adopted the All Black mantra, of “it’s all about the jersey”.
I have no idea if Mike Hesson has looked at the All Blacks’ methods, or spoken to anyone in that organisation at all since he took the job. I may be clutching at straws here. Could even the overt, moneyed professionalism of the IPL be creating this new steely approach? Or perhaps New Zealand cricket is just in a remarkable sweet spot of having a great coaching unit at the same time we have a freakishly talented squad.
I am loving the ride though. Regardless of how far they go in this World Cup (and from the semifinals on it is a lottery) I think this squad will get even better, and climb the Test and ODI rankings to giddy heights. Cricket itself will benefit from having a team performing so well on the biggest stage right here in NZ. Kids will come back to the game.
For now though, whether it is cricket, or rugby (or even that strange soccer thing), one thing remains so true it is worth engraving in stone… or silver: ‘World Cups are special’. The atmosphere in Wellington a few weeks back at the Cake Tin as we mowed England was utterly amazing. Hairs were standing up on my neck as the capacity crowd chanted Tim Southee’s name. This was unheralded in cricket - well, not since 1992?
It has been a absolute pleasure having all these diverse nations’ fans pass through New Zealand, united in their love of a bizarre, beautiful game: Cricket. lovely cricket.
The real test starts this Saturday in our quarter final versus the West Indies. Sadly I can’t go. I would love to… but my mum is only going to be 75 once. So, do it for my Mum, Brendan.
Get on Twitter! #backtheblackcaps Let's Gone, the Black Caps!