Cricket’s misery wheel turns just in time
The brilliant Black Caps somehow kept their heads when all around them lost theirs.
Spare a thought for… pretty much everyone.
For while there is joy unconstrained in many quarters about the Black Caps’ mesmerising Cricket World Cup semifinal victory over India, the level of misery it created is exponential in volume.
Those in pain include a billion-odd Indians. And around a half billion cricketing experts, from those who assessed the Old Trafford pitch as a belter that would produce 350 runs in the first power play, to those, like my good friend Duncan Johnstone, the Stuff sports scribe who near as dammit lost his mind while watching the Black Caps slumber their way to a certain fourth straight defeat playing a brand of cricket as dull as the dishwater from a downtown Manchester curry house.
We don't all get it right.
“At least we [commentators] aren’t the only ones who misread pitches,” was Simon Doull’s understandable passive aggressive beg for mercy in an interview with Kane Williamson, during which the Kiwi skipper admitted he’d had to revise pre-match estimates of what a good total constituted during his innings.
Don’t stress, Doully. Cricket, as you well know, is a game of failure. And in a match that will go down as one of the most memorable in New Zealand cricketing history, pretty much everyone failed, from Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, to the groundsman, to the commentary team, to the gibbering TV director who put Steve Waugh in the commentary box for half of the first innings.
Williamson and Ross Taylor failed their way to match-winning contributions totalling 141 runs in the Black Caps’ turgid innings: when Waugh wasn’t reliving his glory days, we had the commentary box regulars to remind us of that every time they nudged the ball to long on for a careful single, instead of depositing it over Sir Alex Ferguson’s back shed.
And that’s the beauty of cricket – even those who should know, and usually do know, don’t always know what's going on.
That’s no slight. Cricket is nothing if not beguiling.
And not everyone has the luxury of being this column, which comes with the benefit of being able to chew on a grass stem and ponder things long after every other bugger’s deadline has long flown.
There’s a proverb about an old bull buffalo and a young buck wandering over the brow of a hill and seeing a plateau full of cows. The young bull says to the old bull, 'Let’s charge down the hill and make love to one of those cows’. The old bull says ‘Son, let’s walk down the hill and make love to all of them’.
This column is the old bull. The young bull is Rishabh Pant.
Does that make any sense? Who knows? But it appears to when you stay up all night for 30 consecutive nights watching cricket.
For what it’s worth, this column’s assessment of the first innings was thus. The two best batsmen in New Zealand cricketing history (we rate both Taylor and Williamson ahead of M. D. Crowe), both in their prime, tried as hard as they have ever tried at anything to hit a cricket ball as well as they could – and struggled.
And struggled. And struggled some more. It was bloody hard out there. But Taylor and Williamson dug in and delivered the best results they could for their country. It was gloriously inglorious. The resulting 239 was a good score, a hard-earned, honourable score against a brilliant bowling attack on a tough pitch.
Was it a winning score? Quite possibly.
Balancing that top-notch piece of couch potatory, this column also assessed match conditions as being suitable for the devouring of half a jar of pickled onions while drinking a gallon of oatmeal stout.
Suffice to say, midway through the second innings, even Martin Guptill was having a better World Cup than our hardy band of viewers.
Which brings us back to the central point of this celebration of triumph, the twin pillars that make cricket great: misery and despair. Cricket’s capacity to deliver both is unmatched.
You don’t have to be an elite player to experience this.
My 11-year-old son, for instance, spent a week visualising how he would contribute an important innings opening the batting in his team’s biggest game of the season in March.
I’ve got a photo of him sitting alone, distraught on top of the stop-bank at a field in Karaka, after slapping one in the air to cover in the second over. I’ve added it to the gallery that includes pics of him sobbing under a tree in Drury after running himself out, and sulking in the car after somehow getting out to a grenade-throwing nude spinner in Pukekohe.
Cricket in all its glory.
But all that misery and angst bundled together, one suspects, wouldn’t approach the level of despair Martin Guptill was forced to process after nicking Jasprit Bumrah to second slip 3.1 overs into the semifinal.
Cricket being what it is, it would have been no surprise had Guptill dropped two catches and broken a finger in the Indian innings.
But the cricket gods are not entirely without mercy. Guptill had clearly suffered enough to appease their cruel whimsy, and so his throw at one stump from 35-odd metres was allowed to send the zinger bails flying, and MS Dhoni back into the changing sheds with the crushed hopes of a giant cricketing nation marooned on his slumped shoulders.
Cricket’s misery wheel turned just in the nick of time. Your turn, India. We feel for you.
For the Black Caps, who will learn the identity of their World Cup final opponent in the early hours of Friday morning, there are only two certainties: the pitch at Lord’s will be a belter – and Guptill will score a hundred.