PEEL a banana, mash a banana, throw a banana, and let’s go bananas!”
Adrian Raftery is a university lecturer in Australia, teaching taxation. During World Cups, he lives out as ‘Larry the leprechaun’: he dons a long hat, sticks a fake beard and lets his inner child peek out as an exuberant Irish fan, following the team around.
Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce came agonisingly close to centuries but still helped Ireland cause the first upset of the 2015 cricket World Cup with a four-wicket victory over West Indies at Saxton Oval in Nelson on Monday.
There he was yesterday at the stadium in Nelson, jiggling and prancing around with a miniature World Cup in one hand and a beer bottle in the other (“I must have drunk 20!”), and leading the kids, like a pied piper, with banana chants.
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Fascinatingly, his wasn’t a joy or surprise at an “upset” but about what lies ahead: a possible ticket to the next stage. That’s the sentiment that swirled around the charming Saxton Oval, bracketed by hills and sea, and also, pointedly made by Ireland captain William Porterfield, and by his coach Phil Simmons.
It’s about self-respect. “I actually hate the term upsets,” Porterfield said after Ireland chased down West Indies’ 304 with 25 balls to spare.
Towards the end of the successful chase, they lost three wickets for six runs but still won with four to spare.
“I don’t see why a team has to be an associate and a team has to be a full member. I don’t see it as an upset. We prepared to come into this game to win. We’re going to prepare to go into the UAE game to win. It’s where we’re at. We’re looking to pick up two points in every game,” he said.
It’s about pride. It was a professional unit, extremely self-aware of its limitations and strengths, and a group of players who knew how to win. Their new ball bowlers weren’t pacy but they got it to curve in the air a touch and wobble a bit off the seam.
Chris Gayle wasn’t allowed to breathe easy, Dwayne Smith was forced to take risks and a sense of claustrophobia quickly settled upon the arena. The Nelson crowd didn’t know what to make of it initially, relapsing into silence and the occasional gentle claps. Out there Raftery was jumping up and down (The beer rarely spilled out, though).
“Just chill down, mate,” a lady shouted out from the grass banks but he knew what was happening. So did the Irish players. And so did West Indies. Their top order was taken out, the middle was ripped apart but Darren Sammy and Lendl Simmons resuscitated West Indies from 87 for 5 to a strong 304.
It’s about professionalism. The chase was done so smoothly that by the 15th over, it seemed it was Ireland’s game to lose and that was the real achievement of this team.
About 10 players play in English domestic cricket and clearly they aren’t the amateurs of 2007, but considering they rarely play together as a team and really only turn up every four years in World Cups, the chase was uber cool.
It’s about earning respect. At the end of the game, when Porterfield was chatting with couple of journalists, Darren Sammy, who had just finished a slightly emotional press interaction, urging his team-mates to show more commitment, put a hand around Porterfield and congratulated him for what his team was done. Porterfield seems a pretty impassive character but a hint of a smile curled around his lips as he heard out Sammy’s praise and shook his hand.
It’s about getting recognition. Phil Simmons, former West Indies opener who coaches Ireland, talked about how he is spotted by the Irish public more often these days in Dublin or wherever he goes. And how he sees more kids playing cricket in the parks and how the adults wish him, and the team, more success.
It’s also about the spill-over joy to the fans. This is Raftery’s second visit to Nelson. Last time he came here in 2008, he and his wife had just lost their new-born daughter and they wanted to get away to a quiet place to re-discover their spirit. Nelson offered him solace then, it has given him joy this time.