You know who must be loving the whole Sonny Bill Williams boxing controversy (I use those vague terms as that is all I know about it, and all I care to know about it) right now? The Black Caps. Until Sonny Bill received the full force of media and public vitriol last weekend, the Black Caps were their favourite whipping boys. Our national cricket team, who have in the past been achievers of great glory and jubilance for kiwis around the world, have been performing rather inconsistently, and testing the loyalty of their fans. Add to that some management drama and the sacking of popular captain Ross Taylor, and the Black Caps were sports radio gold. And not in a good way. So, you can imagine they have felt a bit of relief to see another sports person become the object of negative attention.
But I, for one, still call myself a Black Caps supporter – and always will I think. For me, summer isn’t summer without watching some cricket on TV and ideally attending a match or two. It has been that way for me since I was in my late teens – having previously claimed I would rather watch paint dry than sit and watch some guys hit a ball around a paddock (yep, am pretty sure I called it a paddock…). I could relate to Jed Barlet in the West Wing when he said: ‘Now, I am an educated man… but when someone tries to explain cricket to me, all I want to do is hit him in the head with a teapot’. And what changed things for me? Rather surprisingly, chicken pox. I got it late in life, and was laid up for two weeks during a hot summer. I was bored out of my mind, and needed distraction. And what was on TV? Cricket. Oh well, I thought, it’s better than nothing.
And by the end of that two weeks not only did I know the rules, but I was a fan. It was the time of the very exciting tri-nations tournaments between Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. It was also the time of amazing players like Jonty Rhodes and Alan Donald. Oh, and some kiwi players too I suppose. But, I have to admit, when I first became a cricket fan, I was a South African cricket fan. The Proteas team at that stage was a hard one to beat – both in terms of skill, but also entertainment value. They were an enthusiastic, energetic and, yes I am gonna say it, good looking team – and succeeded in winning me over. Sure, I felt a little unpatriotic, but every time Jonty got another incredible run out, I cared less and less about that 😉
But the years went on, and the Black Caps won me over eventually. And I wasn’t alone. Several of my (female) school friends were cricket nuts too, and we would go along to as many matches as we could, and stay up late watching matches overseas. I even remember visiting a number of KFC branches with my friend Sarah trying to collect the full set of Black Caps posters that they were giving away at that time (I think Stephen Fleming was the one we were missing). Needless to say we got there in the end! We also spent a full day doing an, in my opinion at least, very impressive banner for a Black Caps match. It was soon after the release of the film Speed, and we were playing Australia. I believe it said: ‘Pop Quiz Hotshot, you’ve got an Aussie spinner aimed at your stumps, what do you do? Hit it for six Nathan!’ Needless to say we were pretty stunned that the commentators didn’t focus on our banner and discuss it at length during a break in proceedings. We were robbed.
And I am still a cricket fan today, and a Black Caps fan at that. I am off to the One Dayer against England next weekend, and am currently multi-tasking while watching the game and blogging at the same time (big ups to Prime by the way for showing the game free to air and without delays). Am I put off by the poor form the Black Caps are in currently? Maybe a little – it is always nice to win – but cricket, especially in 20/20 or ODI format, is generally a fun watch regardless of the result. I guess being a Black Caps supporter is a bit like what it is apparently like being married – you have good years, and you have bad years, but you are in it for the long haul, and overall it is a worthwhile and life affirming experience. So I may not be in the honeymoon period with cricket anymore, but it is a nice and reliable summer constant in my life. And I quite like that.