From cleaning windows to charging Kiwis
Among all the players and support staff in the New Zealand squad, the cheery, jovial coach Gary Stead would be most familiar with the Lord’s, its groundstaff and surroundings. Back in his teens, he nurtured dreams of becoming a curator and through some contacts landed up in Lord’s. But as hierarchical as the stiff establishment was back then, his first job was to run errands for the senior groundsmen.
“Buying stuff like cigarettes, candies, and refreshments, stocking the basement bar,” he had once told stuff.co.nz. In six months, he got a promotion, from errand boy to the window cleaner. Stead chuckles about those days. “You had different duties when you turned up. One of them was pavilion duty, where you got to clean the windows and take the mail around and selling scorecards and a wee bit of scorebox duty as well, which was pretty cool,” he told New Zealand Herald.
But soon, realising it wasn’t quite his stuff, he returned home and led his club-side Canterbury to several domestic trophies, before settling into the coaching job. Stead was a cornerstone of Canterbury, who were a domestic powerhouse for much of the 90s and early 2000s.
The performances earned him Test stripes, where he made tough runs in Wellington against Shaun Pollock and Co, coming at No 5 before he was made a makeshift opener against India in Ahmedabad.
He welcomed the promotion with a dogged 78, but his career lived three more innings before was inexplicably jettisoned. For the record, he averaged a decent 34.71, never got out for a single-digit ball and faced an average of 84 balls an innings. It wasn’t like New Zealand were brimming with talent, they were as always modest.
But Stead didn’t bother asking the questions and moved on, went back to Canterbury, before he embarked on coaching. In Canterbury, he was known for readiness to fit into any role in case of emergency. He’d be happy to bat high up the order on a green wicket, where the ball was nipping around all over the place. When wicketkeeper Lee Germon was forced off the field in the 1995-96 Shell Cup one-day final against Northern Districts with a shoulder injury, not surprisingly Stead was the first to ask for the gloves.
Later, as he quit the game, Germon invited him to join the club as support staff. He took to it like a duck to water, winning three Plunkett Shields (FC Cricket) and a Ford trophy (50 overs tournament). He then took over the women’s team with great success, taking them to the finals of the 50 over and World T20. He wouldn’t want another runner-up entry to his name.
Not just cricket, he’s a decent golf player, plying in lower leagues. Germon labels him a “burglar” on the golf course. Stead doesn’t have a handicap, but once got down to 10. He loves to dust up golfing analogies too. For instance, when he emphasised the pursuit of perfection. “You can play a par four and hit it down the middle, then the second shot, you can hit to the middle of the green, and you two-putt and get a four. Or you can hit your driver off the tee and it goes into the rough, hit the next one into the bunker on the side, flop it on to the green and sink a 20-foot putt, it’s still a four.”
Returning to Lord’s thus gives his career a circularity. “It’s a great experience coming back here at any time but the extra emphasis about what this is about makes this more special.” A trophy in his bag would thicken the circles.
Kohli the showman; Williamson the manager
That’s how BBC’s Tom Fordyce contrasts the two leading protagonists in the World Cup. But while India and England have had other superstars to assist them, New Zealand’s progress to the World Cup final is almost totally down to their skipper.
“Of all the logical explanations you can find for the illogical progress of New Zealand to the final of the Cricket World Cup, nothing is as persuasive as their skipper Kane Williamson,” Fordyce writes. “In the process he is a game away from pulling off the most unexpected triumph since Sri Lanka pinch-hit their way to glory 23 years ago.”
A win for New Zealand at Lord’s on Sunday will be close to miraculous, he felt. “A nation of 4.3 million people beating one of 1.3 billion in a semi-final that most assumed was lost at the innings break, a country with a national sport whose own World Cup does not begin until September in Japan… the quiet man from the Bay of Plenty overwhelmed the superstar from the land of many more.”
Fordyce can’t seem to have enough of the opposite personalities of Kohli and Williamson.
“Virat Kohli cannot leave his house in Mumbai without armed guards. He cannot walk down the street without being mobbed. Williamson could turn up at Lord’s in his tracksuit and still need to show ID to get past the stewards… It is Williamson who has gone further and had the greater influence. Across nine innings in this World Cup he is averaging a remarkable 91 with the bat. Kohli is back on 55, Joe Root 69,” he reflects.
The Kiwi batting is not the strongest, which makes Williamson’s feat all the more admirable.
“Williamson is personally responsible for almost a third of his team’s total runs. He has done that behind openers who have produced the lowest average stand for the first wicket of any team in the tournament. Three times he has been at the crease before the end of the first over. He has arrived in the second over, the third, fourth, sixth and ninth. Almost always he has prospered. The century against West Indies after both openers had gone for golden ducks; the endlessly patient 67 in the semi-final as wickets fell and runs dried up all around him,” Fordyce says.
Contrasting Williamson with his immediate predecessor, he writes “(Brendon) McCullum the batsman was all knockouts and hammer blows. Williamson gets there with jabs. Williamson wears you down in such undemonstrative fashion that you don’t even realise you’re cut until the referee waves it off. Across the tournament he has hit a grand total of three sixes.”
Make or break for indifferent Three Lions
Sunday’s final could be watershed moment for cricket in England, where the game is struggling with lack of popular support and its absence from public television, while football dominates public imagination and media space. “They (England) have been building up to this moment for four years and will go into Sunday knowing that it is not only an opportunity to win the World Cup, but also a crucial moment for cricket in this country,” Jonathan Agnew writes for the BBC.
The authorities have been playing catch-up on interest and participation for a number of years. That is why we have seen initiatives at grassroots level and the introduction of The Hundred from next year. England have had their cricketing moments over the years, but have repeatedly faltered at the World Cup.
“Over the past number of years, we have seen England win the Ashes in that memorable series of 2005, then follow that up with the wonderful series win in Australia in 2010-11. They have won the World Twenty20, while the England women’s team have won everything available to them, not least that huge moment of winning their own home World Cup two years ago. The missing piece, as it has been for so long, is the men’s 50-over World Cup. England have a fantastic opportunity to put that right on Sunday,” he says. The final will be shown on free-to-air television as Sky Sports will share the feed with Channel 4. “It is an important and correct decision for the game to be shown on free-to-air television, because it is essential that as many people as possible see England play – and hopefully win – a World Cup final,” the former England player feels.
And he hopes that it will not be the usual restrained atmosphere one generally associates with a match at the ‘Home of Cricket’. “It will be a wonderful occasion. Not the usual genteel atmosphere you expect from Lord’s, but flags and horns from a crowd that is likely to be hugely behind England. It promises to be some day.”
Inspired by 1992: England dressed to win
Ahead of the World Cup, the England team’s uniform for the tournament received a lot of flak on social media. The kit’s design was an inspired from the uniform the team wore for the 1992 edition of the World Cup, the last time the country had reached the final. Fans though, weren’t too pleased, likening the design to one used by the Indian team in the past, while another claimed it “resembles the colour of the New South Wales blue.”
One even said “Perfectly acceptable – if the World Cup was taking place in the 1990s.”
But that was the intention itself, to come up with a kit to draw inspiration from the last England team that did well at a World Cup. And somehow, it has worked. England is now in its first World Cup final since 1992, but the tale of the two kits doesn’t stop just there.The ECB has decided to send replicas of the current kit to members of the 1992 team, with their respective names printed on the back. England’s wicketkeeper 27-years-ago Allan Lamb snapped a picture of the jersey he got in the mail along with the letter from ECB CEO Tom Harrison. “The design of this shirt was based largely on the 1992 Cricket World Cup campaign – the last time England appeared in a World Cup final,” the letter read. “Let’s hope this fine young team can emulate your success and go one step further.”
In the ‘VIP box’, the sports minister of New Zealand
He is a self confessed ‘cricket tragic’ and doesn’t mind taking potshots at former Australia captain Steve Waugh for his ‘irrelavant’ commentary skills on social media. New Zealand sports minister, Grant Roberston, will have to be more measured when he arrives at Lord’s on Sunday morning for the World Cup final as the guest of New Zealand Cricket. The match ticket is the only ‘complimentary pass’ the minister is availing. Everything else — from the airfares to accommodation has been taken care of by him. The New Zealand High Commission will help him with the logistics and transport on his arrival at the Heathrow Airport on Saturday morning. The minister flies back to New Zealand on Tuesday after watching the final and visiting the Silver Ferns at the World Netball Championship in Liverpool.”I’m a lifelong cricket tragic and this is the ultimate; a trip to Lord’s, the home of cricket, to see the Black Caps in a World Cup final. I am so excited!,” Robertson told stuff.co.nz.
Top of world, but staying down to earth
Freeview is a luxury in New Zealand. That is to say, the 5 million and some precious more, are celebrating Sky ensuring that the World Cup final – which the Black Caps reached a second straight time – will beam into televisions on Finals Sunday. But just how low-key this is for a country rediscovering its love for the cricket – was best captured in a casual exchange on Twitter. Auckland Mayor was tagged into a conversation with Jimmy Neesham when a journalist told him, “You bring that cup back to NZ mate and I’ll work on @phil_goff giving you the keys to the city. He might even throw in some flash mayoral chains #BackTheBlackCaps.”
Mayoral chains are part of the traditional regalia worn by the elected mayors. Phil Goff good-naturedly piped in, “I’m not sure the city will appreciate me giving away the chains, but if that’s what it takes to win the world cup….. Always #BackTheBlackCaps.”
It’s superstardom worn lightly on both sides. While Neesham took the train into London alongwith team-mates, England captain Eoin Morgan had headed to Birmingham solo too, carrying his hand baggage on the train before Eng thumped Australians.
And when the Black Caps bus rolled into London, the players carried their baggage. Whatever be the outcome of the World Cup final at Lord’s on Sunday, you would expect Kane Williamson’s team to receive a rapturous homecoming. Even Brendon McCullum’s Black Caps were given a red carpet treatment in Auckland after their loss to Australia in 2015 final.
This year, however, the organisers are a bit guarded, lest they jinx their team’s fortunes in Lord’s. Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development general manager Steve Armitage said no welcome event for Kane Williamson’s team was discussed as yet. He insisted the organisation was “well versed in staging appropriate events at relatively short notice”.
“Understandably, New Zealand Cricket is focused on the challenge ahead and so we’re not in a position to talk about any potential welcome home plans or what shape these may take,” he told New Zealand Herald.