The childish fury of national sentiment

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The game was fabulous, the outcome stunning – the first victory for New Zealand on Australian soil in 26 years. When one should be seeing cricket as a game that bucks criticism each and every time it faces it, we are seeing panic, concern and fear in the ranks of Australian followers.

While losing to New Zealand in the Trans-Tasman rivalry in cricket is a bit like seeing the debunking of a grand scientific theory, the result is something for all cricket followers to appreciate.

This is not the way Australian press outlets saw it.

‘Once the kings of world cricket, Australia are no longer capable of putting away eighth-ranked New Zealand,’ screamed the habitually hysterical Herald. Robert Craddock, writing in the Daily Telegraph, was all negative, calling for the head of opener Phil Hughes and questioning the judgment of the chairman of selectors John Inverarity.

Richard Hinds, pencilling his judgments in the Sydney Morning Herald, suggested that Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey were well past their retirement dates, and self-nomination for moving on could no longer be claimed as a privilege. Patrick Smith was particularly bruising in The Australian. ‘This Australian side is neither technically sound nor stern of character. It might be enthusiastic but any fourth XI side can boast such common quality.’

Vicious commentary against the home side was complemented by understated praise for the tourists. Indeed, a few cricket commentators in New Zealand gave the impression that cricket itself is far from sacred in a country where God and rugby exist side by side. As Chris Rattue claimed in the New Zealand Herald (Dec 14), ‘the game is something of an acquired taste, though there is nothing better than the sort of Test match conclusion that occurred on Monday.’

New Zealand’s cricket run in Australia is characteristically abysmal, but the side that won at Hobart did not do so out of freakish coincidence. True, Mark Taylor was speechless. The English anchor in the form of Mark Nicholas was mesmerised by Australia’s performance throughout and seemed to be in denial. But it was individuals like Bracewell who exploited the conditions well, and should be duly credited with a victory that is not as improbable as critics would have it. It is one thing to speak of favourable conditions – another to exploit them.

The achievement was also attained without the heroic vanguard antics of Daniel Vettori, who has tended to spend more time plugging the leaks in a sinking vessel than winning matches.

Instead, the cricketing world should cherish the total absence of cricket hegemony as it stands. No side at the moment can claim to be invincible. A greater number of close matches may be in the offing. This state of affairs is bound to be healthier for the game than otherwise.

This is despite Cricket Australia’s own curious efforts to undermine cricket’s longer formats with no Sheffield Shield cricket, or even 50-over cricket, scheduled between December 16 and January 28. Former Australian opening batsman Michael Slater has ventured as far as to accuse the body of killing Test cricket in favour of Twenty20 madness.

The Indians, who face Australian in a four-Test post-Christmas series, will be a different proposition to the New Zealand challengers, but to suggest that Australia have new depths to plummet to is a misreading of their prospects.

The Indians will know better.