Few days ago, New Zealand’s much-loved radio DJ and influential broadcaster of Radio Sports, Tony Veitch, posted an invite on his very popular Facebook page. He wanted the travelling Kiwi fans to spend that World Cup final eve at the College Lawn Hotel pub, an iconic watering hole on a quiet back street of a quaint Melbourne suburb.(Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
They came in droves — 5000 of them — from all corners of the world. A college-student from Taiwan, another one from Canada, a new-father from Tanzania who had convinced his wife that he needs to be at MCG on Sunday, the All-Blacks World Cup winning coach, Corey Anderson’s class mate from Christchurch and someone so drunk that he proudly claimed that his ‘Mrs’ was once Brendon McCullum’s girlfriend.
Most are wearing the $25 #backtheblackcaps T-shirts available at the gate. Virtually, everyone has tickets for Sunday and, of course, one common dream. They sit around crowded tables, share high-stools and walk gingerly to the beer garden balancing their drink, talking cricket. Inside ‘Gents’, you hear about ‘batting first’. In between chants, songs and war cries, an ‘Aussies suck’ scream hits the air. The party had commenced at 5.30 pm, but even three hours later, there was still a long queue on the pavement to get in.
A very busy Veitchy, after his 1456th picture with the 174th biggest-ever fan, looks overwhelmed. “I am blown away by this turn out. If I had done this two years ago, I would have got maybe 10 people who would have turned up. Now we have a queue that goes down the road. The owner is worried that the police is going to close us down! This is everything what cricket means to New Zealanders now.”
Beating Australia at MCG and bringing home the World Cup, is an often-happening event in a Kiwi kid’s make-believe world. On Sunday, 11 men in Black Caps will try to live out the fantasy of 4.5 million. Those tiny bits of land mass that seem to have fallen off the massive continent aren’t just in with a chance to snub Australia but to conquer the world.
Sam Southee, Corey Anderson’s school-mate, talks about what irks him about the Aussies. “This morning, at breakfast and we heard a few Aussies in the table behind me talk about cricket. And they were going, ‘oh let’s hope the Kiwis give us some fight and we can have a decent game.’ As if the result was never in question, they just want us to give them a fight. This cockiness, this in-your-face attitude, this arrogance is what we Kiwis don’t like about Australia”.
Angus, 21, from outside Christchurch and Kiwi World Cupper Tom Latham’s classmate, says it will be the best day of his life in case McCullum lifts the Cup. “This means a lot to all of us. I live on a farm. My parents are conservative. The other day during the semi-final, me and father were watching this close game and would get frustrated. We would use filthy language. My mom was surprised but Pop said ‘You wouldn’t understand, the boy is just showing emotion’. Mom said, ‘I do understand’.”
Even the veteran sports-watcher Veitchy thinks it can’t get bigger than this. “It’s the biggest moment in sporting history for me. I put it above rugby because of where we have come from. Australia have won 4, we have never won.” He called this the redemption story. “Like the rest of Kiwi cricket fans, I have been tormented, broken hearted and I have sat down there and gone, ‘God these guys are crap’ and Now I am actually going, ‘woohoo! We are quite good!’”
The New Zealand cricket journey, over the years and in this tournament, is heart-rending and charming. With their opponents being the all-conquering Aussies, who have won 3 of the last 4 World Cups, it’s easy to imagine who the neutrals are backing. Even McCullum acknowledged it: “I think it’s probably no secret that most of the other teams around the world would probably prefer New Zealand to beat Australia.”
Says Veitchy, “New Zealanders don’t like the way Australians behave. Australians like to be in the face whereas New Zealand, even when they won the semi-final, Grant Ellliott could have run around and given it to the South Africans… (Instead) he tried to lift Dale Steyn off the ground.”
It is getting increasingly difficult to hear the radio DJ as a chant goes in the background. “Corey, Corey, Corey, Corey Anderson, he bats and bowls, he bowls and bats.”
Suddenly, in a corner of the beer garden, the phones are being held high. It’s an indicator that someone important is around. You think it’s Veitchy again, obliging more selfie hunters. But no, making a special appearance to support the Black Caps is the one-time All Blacks legendary coach Henry Graham, who guided the All Blacks to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. “Henry, Henry, Henry,” is the new cry now. From the bar stool someone says that Aussies will be beaten. Graham gives his thumbs up. But despite the enthusiasm, there is edginess to the evening. Every fan is constantly asking the other the all-important question “Will we win?”
The man who takes calls and answers sports questions for a living, Veitchy, doesn’t sway away from the very difficult answer. “Regardless of what happens in the final, New Zealand has come of age as cricketing nation. We didn’t expect New Zealand fans to embrace this team as they have done. I have got calls from Mums on my show, who want their kids to play cricket. That’s the transformation. If you are a New Zealander, you will sit back years later and go, 2015 was the moment that New Zealand loved cricket again and that’s why this is significant.”