If we were to draw up a list of things we hated as children/man-children, it might look something like this: Broccoli, Monday, socks with sandals, and the Australian cricket team.
Growing up as Proteas supporters was great fun for the most part. We had Alan Donald and Shaun Pollock bringing batsmen to their knees. High fives were exchanged as masterful batsmen like Gary Kirsten and King Kallis turned ovals around the world into canvasses upon which they created their own Mona Lisas. We witnessed Lance “Zulu” Klusener inspire a generation of T20 slog-specialists without even knowing it, and who amongst us didn’t spend their summers perfecting the one-handed Jonty Rhodes catch into the pool?
Life was good…until we would come up against the arrogant bastards clad in canary yellow* (or Australian gold, as they prefer).
*Arrogant bastards in Test cricket whites doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but is equally applicable if not more so.
It has taken the better part of a decade for us to resolve the emotional baggage accrued over years of being beaten into submission by the Aussies and that’s without taking into account the semi-final-which-shall-not-be-named, from which we will probably never recover. So when it comes to throwing the nation’s support behind a team in Sunday’s Cricket World Cup Final it should be a no-brainer, right? Well…no, not quite.
As far as the Aus-NZ-SA rivalry goes, we’ve traditionally cast the New Zealand cricket team in the fringe character role played by your best mate’s younger brother. You know the one. He gets dragged along to your all-day garden cricket exhibitions because your mate’s mom said so and you end up bowling underhand to him and fumbling catches so as not to hurt his feelings. All the while, feigning disappointment at your inability to get the kid out. The corollary effect of this being that the Black Caps were deemed to be a relatively harmless and affable bunch. Who could begrudge a team containing Scott Styris?!
He looked like a comic book villain. Then one day, the unthinkable happened. The men in black cottoned-on to our Achilles heal – tournament cricket. It started in 2003 when they made their deal with the devil in order to harness the power of the wretched rain. In our own country no less! Messrs Duckworth & Lewis took New Zealand under their corrupt wings and provided them with the tools with which to destroy the soul of South African cricket. These accursed powers tend to wane the second the Black Caps set foot outside the realm of tournament cricket, but that has always been the case. Come World Cup 2011 and those assholes did it again! Except this time, they didn’t just beat us…they knocked us out of the cup and proceeded to rub our zinc-covered faces in it. For all the pomp and arrogance attributed to the Aussies, we can concede that they have earned the right to brag a little. New Zealand, on the other hand, are a gaggle of one-trick-ponies incapable of replicating their devastating form over an extended period. That’s what makes losing to that bunch so fucking hard to stomach. Add to all of that, the events of 24 March 2015 – which we are not yet ready to discuss in any great detail – and you have the recipe for infinite resentment. In other words, they can go to hell.
Back home, our new TV has just been delivered. A coffee mug found its way through the screen of the last one around the same time that South African-born Grant Elliott smashed the world’s premier fast bowler for 6 to clinch the first semi-final. The same semi-final that New Zealand shouldn’t even have stood a chance in had the rain stayed it’s course. Are these just the bitter rambling of a deluded Proteas fan? Almost definitely, but that’s cricket folks. It’s emotive and passion-driven, and all the stats in the world can’t derogate from that. It pains us greatly to root for either one of these teams and in the end we’ll probably just wait till one of them gains the ascendency before jumping on that particular bandwagon. One thing’s for certain, it should be a cracking match.