When it comes to football, sometimes people say “every World Cup should be in Italy in 1990”. When it comes to my other favourite sport, cricket, I’ve always thought that there should be a similar saying: Every World Cup should be in New Zealand and Australia in 1992.
When the Cricket World Cup came down under 23 years ago, I had just turned 16 and was a massive cricket fan. I played, albeit badly, Senior C in Hamilton for a club called Glenview and I played indoor cricket, somewhat better, briefly earning selection for the Waikato Colts who were an under 17 rep side. I also played every lunchtime at school, and every afternoon when I got home I pretended I was bowling at the death for New Zealand up against a concrete wall in the backyard.
There was only one game featuring New Zealand in Hamilton in the 1992 tournament – New Zealand vs Sri Lanka, and it was played on a weekday. I wasn’t allowed to skip school to go, but my mum offered me a pretty cool choice to make up for it. She would take me to one game, any game of my choice, in Auckland. My choice, to my mind, was a difficult one between the opening game vs Australia and the semi-final.
Everyone thought I was mad. New Zealand had been terrible in the lead-up to the tournament. Our team, despite the rewriting of history now, never seemed like anything very special. Dibbly dobbly medium pace bowlers, some average club batsmen and Martin Crowe. But in my mind, they could do it. I figured they could beat almost anyone on their day, therefore they would beat everyone except Australia in pool play! Simple, right? Before the tournament started, I confidently told my mum to get semi-final tickets.
Then the whole of New Zealand watched an amazing thing unfold – a bunch of ordinary cricketers turned into the most incredible team of world beaters before our very eyes. They won all but their last pool game, beating all but one test playing nation, including an Australian team everyone would have agreed beforehand was the best in the world. They also crushed a West Indian side featuring the likes of Viv Richards and Brian Lara, and an England side that was probably the best team they have ever fielded in a World Cup.
The lyrics of the official 1992 World Cup song that played on all the TV ads proclaimed it “a once in a lifetime chance”. I took it literally, never dreaming I would ever see anything that even closely resembled that again in my lifetime. To me, when I sat on the concrete terraces at Eden Park, listening to the deafening roar of that semi-final crowd, this was as good as it could possibly get.
We all know the history. New Zealand scored 262 batting first – at that time in the development of the limited overs game a very, very good score. I turned to my mum at the end of our 50 overs and nonchalantly said “we should win it from here”. Then Inzamam ul Haq and Javed Miandad broke our hearts. A lot of people automatically talk of Inzamam’s big hitting when they talk about that game. But for me, Miandad was the hero for Pakistan that day. A picture of cool, calm, sensible batting that just steered Pakistan to a point where their victory was simply as inevitable as the sun coming up every morning. It was a master class of how to chase a score in limited overs cricket. Not unlike South Africa’s AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis last night were a master class in how to set a target.
When the winning runs were hit, Mum and I had moved. As the Pakistani innings got started, the terraces had become too much for my mum and so we found some empty seats near the top of the old Northern stand. It was from there that we watched the New Zealand team, the ‘Young Guns’ who had captured the hearts and minds of a nation, do their lap of honour, thanking the crowd for their support, with the intense pain of that defeat etched all over their faces. It was a desperately painful moment that I’ll never forget.
At the conclusion of that game, if you had told me any one of the following things I would have called you a stark raving lunatic:
- In 23 years’ time, the World Cup will again be jointly hosted between New Zealand and Australia
- New Zealand will again play in a semi-final at Eden Park
- We will have a bowling attack capable of dismissing Australia for 151
- We will have a batting line-up capable of posting 393 against the West Indies
- The team will feature two players of Italian descent, one of whom will be from Hamilton. (Sorry sunshine, it won’t be you)
In 2015, the equivalent song to the 1992 one that told us that our chance was “a once in a lifetime” one, has a different message. It opens with “it’s time for us”.
Yes. Yes, it is.
I was there last night, 23 years after that game in 1992, for another World Cup semi-final – this time with my partner Gina. With two balls to go and New Zealand needing 4 runs to lay the ghost of 1992 to rest and make it to our first ever final, I looked down at my feet and thought to myself “come on… this means SO much to me… come on…” Then I looked up, and I saw Grant Elliott smack that ball for 6… And I couldn’t believe my eyes. That was the first time I cried last night. The second time was watching the Black Caps do their lap of honour, a victorious lap of honour.
In some ways, it doesn’t really matter to me whether we win the final or not now. Of course I want our team to be crowned World Champions, but assuming we’ll be playing Australia in Australia… There couldn’t be a tougher ask. But you know what? I think we’ve just beaten the best team in the tournament in South Africa, so anything is possible.
A win at the MCG might add another layer of emotional significance after everything that has happened at that venue over the years… I am too young to remember the underarm incident when it occurred, but perhaps for older fans, that will mean as much to them as winning last night meant to us all.
One thing I do know for certain is, just like I always say with football – before you can truly appreciate victory, first you must experience the abject misery of bitter defeat. For me, whatever happens on Sunday in Melbourne, we have already won. I only hope I’m around for another 23 years to do it all again!
Categories: Off Topic
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/