Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand vs India, and I am neutral, though usually end up finding myself rooting for one team without having realised I’d favour them. The hostel is close. I am here because I spotted the stadium on a stroll last week and realised how easy it would be to get there. With the start time at 2pm for a day/night game, I was sold, even before I found the price was $35. On the walk down to the stadium I passed the girl who literally blinked yesterday and found it was five o’clock. I stared at her, making sure that she didn’t blink. I didn’t want to miss that much of the game.
Frankly, I arrived a little later than I’d wanted for build up purposes, but the ticket pick up and entry were so slick that I was in my seat 15 minutes before the action started. There had been a lot of noise while I walked in to the stadium, I assumed for some warm up activity. 10 minutes later I revised that opinion. A few of the Indian players wandered on to the pitch for a photo, and the noise was immense. Check the first picture – this was one empty stadium. Immense, I tell you. Three seconds later i made a mental note – watch some cricket in India. It must have been deafening as Sachin came out into a full stadium. I was sure this match wouldn’t affect me emotionally, but that noise did it. It’s the ‘I’m really here’ factor again – I thought there wouldn’t be a sense of occasion for me, no spine tingling quiet moment of “crikey, MCG, Boxing day’, but the Indian fans created one for me.
They did it again. The noise built and built as the players readied themselves. The crowd cheered, clapped the bowler in, the odd whooooooo escaped… Guptill cut it nearly to the boundary, and they cheered it all the way there, too. I even waved my 4 card in celebration. New Zealand’s innings started with a flurry of runs, slowed as Ryder was out for 20, though buoyed by 16 early extras, and Guptill and Williamson dug in and gradually accelerated. Williamson made 50, Guptill 100, but once they were both out the innings stuttered, included two crazy run outs-both risking the same fielder’s arm-until some bashing from Ronchi looked likely to take them well over 300, then even getting there looked unlikely with the lower order at the crease, Southee unable to lay bat on ball. He managed it in the end, run out off the last ball with the total at 314. The kiwi crowd found their voice in the middle, but with a flurry of wickets they were drowned out by drums and dancing from Indian fans.
“Now would be a great time to grab a combo.”
They might be right, at the change of innings. But that message was also put up on screen indiscriminately, often at times when the action was most intent. It really wouldn’t, I like to think everyone was thinking.
India’s innings got off to a quick start after a quiet first over, Dhawan watching 3 balls from McClanaglenahanaeverything* before driving the fourth into the stands, with the openers proceeding in similar vein for 9 overs. After that the shackles were put on by Bennett and magic arm Anderson-a crowd favourite, he’d already been cheered to the crease when coming in at number four, watched a ball, driven the second into the stands and then got out for 8. After 15 overs, India were 75-3. Kohli’s wicket was a relief – although he’d stopped by then, a flurry of boundaries would surely have restarted the witless, loud, “Kohli, Kohlay” from just behind me.
I’d christened Anderson ‘golden arm’ when he picked up a wicket in his first over, roared on with chants of “Corey, Corey”, but he soon had 3-11, India were 79-4 and Microsoft Dhoni was at the crease. Blame The Guardian for that name – their writers suggested they couldn’t think of anything else whenever they saw ‘MS Dhoni’, and now nor can I.
Raina and Dhoni made a decent partnership, but Raina fell just short of 150, which was my marker for ‘don’t lose another before then’. Even so, they ticked along, the rate rising but not to disaster point-from over 34, 5-6 an over would get them to around 100 from victory from the final ten, and that would be the time to have a go.
I read him wrong. He took the power play in the 36th over, lofted a straight six and was then caught past square leg; magic arm, 4-29, India 184-6, 9.14/over required, game and series surely done. A few of the Indians drifted away. Bridge over troubled water played on the tannoy.
After 39, Ashwin had shown he can bat, though English people don’t need reminding, and McClenaghan had given Jadeja the opportunity to show he can put away the rubbish balls, too. 219-6, Not over yet the soundtrack. An over later and Jadeja had shown Southee that a length ball can be dismissed too. 231-6, 84 needed from 60, no one leaving now. It was apparently still a great time to go get a combo.
42 gone, 249-6, Ashwin 56 (37), Jadeja 24 (19), noise only from one lot of supporters.
44 overs, 261-6, ticking over.
45th over. McCollum has to bowl through to the end now, and has been neat and economical. Until Ashwin deposits him with a swing, into the second top tier. Indians are cheering then biting their nails behind me. A couple of singles then Ashwin launches one, is caught near the boundary and fortunately the fielder realises he is near the edge, throws the ball back up and steps back on to complete the catch. The level of fielding these days is so impressive. Blackcaps fans find their voice, their feet and a single finger each. 271-7.
46 overs gone, 276-8. The sound system suggests blaming it on the boogie. At least when compared to the moonlight we have now or the sunshine from earlier.
47 overs. McClenaghan has never seemed a threat, been expensive and been hidden, rather than saved, till the end. 284-8 after a big six from Jadeja, 42 (34) and a huge appeal for a catch off the last ball that no Blackcap expected to be turned down.
48 overs. I was wrong about McCullum, Williamson must have served up more than 2 overs of filth. Golden arm is back, and my script is working – a cheap over sees him pick up his fifth wicket. 286-9 and various enormously fat ladies are rushing to pull combo meals out of their mouths in preparation.
49. Whichever fat lady Jadeja has in sight is not ready to sing, as he smites six down the ground. Bennett misjudges a catch and he has his fifty, from 38 balls. The scoreboard is reluctant to give us numbers any more after some harum scarum cricket, but eventually we find 18 are needed from the last. 297-9.
Golden arm’s first goes for four, second is wide, the repeat a dot. So is the next, though only because Jadeja turns down a single to stay on strike. An attempted yorker is given wide. A four makes it 8 needed from 2. Ball 299 goes for six, and the place is bedlam. 2 needed, everyone on their feet.
They get 1. The golden arm isn’t entirely tarnished. A tie, and what a fight. Fabulous. I discovered I was totally neutral, happily clapping every boundary, every wicket, brought to my feet by that last six, and with no preference for an outcome from the final ball.
*McClenaghan. Not that difficult, but he’d appeared as “McC’GHAN’ when batting, so it took me a moment to work out who this Clena-something was.