Ever since it became apparent on the second day of the first Test in Ahmedabad that New Zealand weren’t in fact going to be crushed into dust by India, as everyone and their grandmother had predicted, I’ve been giving Dileep Premachandran a hard time for this article. (Mostly because he called Chris Martin “ready for the knackers’ yard” and anyone even casually familiar with me or this blog probably knows that suggesting Chris Martin is anything less than completely awesome is, in my opinion, punishable by torture and execution.)
Truth be told, I was predicting the same thing everyone else was. I believe my exact words were “Vettori’s 100th Test appearance for New Zealand is going to be a nightmarish, bloodstained massacre.” If I felt any ambivalence I disguised it well.
I love New Zealand (yeah, not news, I know). I have a massive amount of faith in their players. I know that they have an uncanny ability to come good when appearing totally down and out. The fact that the spellcheck on WordPress still doesn’t recognize ‘Zealand’ as a word AS IT IS DOING RIGHT THIS FUCKING MINUTE sends me into a mini rage spiral. Still.
It was impossible not to. One of the oldest cliches in cricket is that anything can happen, but that’s sometimes just not true. Put Canada into the field with Australia and there’s a 99.99% chance that you could correctly predict what would happen. It’s like the lottery: technically, yes, there is a chance of winning, but you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning, twice, in the same place on your body at the same time of day while wearing the same 6 items of clothing. After the Bangladesh tour, with India coming off beating the mighty(ish) Australians 2-0, it would have just been unrealistic to think that the Kiwis – in a Test series no less (statistically the format in which they have been least successful in recent times) – would be anything other than woefully outmatched. They no longer had Bond or O’Brien. Their batting lineup was shakier than a house of cards on a seesaw in an earthquake. They had just emerged from a series in which they had failed to win a single ODI…against Bangladesh.
If the New Zealand team were a horse, it would have been taken behind some sheds and shot as an act of mercy.
There is very rarely anything nice about being proved spectacularly wrong, but (as England fans who were around in the 90s and early Aughts will attest) there’s nothing better than the team you love winning when you had prepared yourself for them to lose. It’s SO much better than an expected win. It more than compensates for the contrasting feeling – losing when winning should have been a foregone conclusion. It may in fact be one of the best feelings there is for a sports fan.
Shane Bond has said publicly that he’s always hated the ‘underdogs’ tag New Zealand have long been saddled with for this very reason, that they were expected to lose and winning was a bonus. And I agree with him. It’s not healthy for the team to think that way. It’s probably more than a little pathetic for the fans to constantly think that way. But it’s so hard not to, when it means that you occasionally get to experience this feeling. Because, for real, it feels fucking fantastic.
Or maybe I’m biased and the feeling is heightened for me because my long-beloved Chris Martin took 5 for 63 when certain people-who-will-not-be-named-except-that-their-first-name-rhymes-with-Felipe-and-their-last-name-is-Premachandran had written him off as old and past it. It’s possible.