SEVEN DAYS IN SPORT: New Zealand’s cricketers have drawn a formidable opponent in the first Test championship decider – but they won’t be overawed or under-supported, writes RON REED:
BY AT least one measure, it looks like one of the greatest David v. Goliath encounters international sport could possibly come up with. Test cricket’s first world championship decider, to be played at Lord’s in June, will be between India and New Zealand, one of which has a population of nearly 1.4 billion at the last count available on the internet, the other just short of 5 million, ditto. That’s a difference of times 280, give or take.
But of course that doesn’t mean India’s best cricketers are 280 times better than New Zealand’s best – or that they’re necessarily better at all. That’s why this match-up, with what’s at stake, should prove to be a magnet for cricket fans everywhere.
There’s another way of looking at that yawning gap: The incentive to become a champion cricketer in India is massive, working down from the incumbent captain and superstar batsman Virat Kohli, who is worth somewhere not far short of $US100m or a bit more than that, depending on which website you choose to engage with. The exact figures are not really important, and probably unavailable anyway, because it’s just an exercise in comparisons. But here’s one published list that can presumably be taken as a rough guide – again, in US greenbacks.
Note that the top three, and five of the 10, are Indians. Note also, there is no sign of any New Zealanders. Not by a very long shot. The Kiwi equivalent to Kohli – the captain and a batsman generally regarded as more or less his equal – is Kane Williamson, who is listed elsewhere as being worth about $3m. His playing contract is apparently $85,000 plus a captain’s allowance of $40,000, and his team-mates are paid less depending on their ranking.
But in cricket, as in life, money isn’t everything – and population most certainly isn’t either.
What New Zealand has been achieving without much of either is truly remarkable.
They were desperately unlucky not to win the ODI World Cup in England about 18 months ago. Now they have become the first team to qualify for the Test championship decider, having won 12 of their past 14 series (mostly at home) including a 2-0 result over India. The only recent loss was to Australia two years ago, but they have just gained a level of revenge for that with a 3-2 triumph in the T20 series over the past couple of weeks. Just for good measure they have just beaten Australia at netball, too. And of course, don’t mention rugby – ever.
The bookies will probably have them as underdogs at Lord’s given India’s powerful recent performances against Australia and England, but their classy pace and swing bowling will be better suited to the conditions that the opposition spinners who so comprehensively destroyed the Poms on their own tailor-made surfaces.
Meanwhile, the Australians can only look on in frustrated dismay, knowing they would have qualified ahead of the Kiwis except for being docked crucial points for slow over rates during the Boxing Day Test – and also for failing to seal the deal when they appeared to have India down for the count in Sydney.
It’s not a popularity contest, of course, but I reckon most cricket fans around the world, outside India, will be barracking for the Kiwis, if only because the manner in which they were deprived of the World Cup has not been forgotten, and nor has the exemplary sportsmanship with which they responded to that shattering disappointment. Neutral onlookers rarely barrack for Goliath – and his win-loss record is not good.
THE Kiwis are on the verge of yet another major international sports challenge. Hands up anyone who noticed that the final of the America’s Cup got underway in Auckland this week – yes, the same event that captivated Australia when John Bertrand’s Australia II broke the 132 year American stranglehold on it in 1983, with Prime Minister Bob Hawke declaring an unofficial public holiday. And which now attracts no attention whatsoever in this country.
Other than a few individual sailors working for foreign outfits, Australia hasn’t been involved since 1995 – and may never be again, given how expensive it is to compete – when Bertrand had one more go, only for his multi-million dollar boat to break in half mid-race and sink to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean off San Diego, where it still is.Embed from Getty Images
I was on hand in that pleasant Californian city to watch the master sailor and motivational expert try to pick up the pieces with a spare boat and a crew and staff who had been psychologically damaged by the disaster, and it was a fascinating experience. They won several more races but fell just short of making the final, which was won for the first time by a New Zealand crew. The Kiwis have now won three of the last seven Cups and are heavily favoured to outclass the Italian opposition this time.
The full story of Bertrand’s dramatic farewell to the event that made him a household name is one of the best chapters in my recently-published book WAR GAMES, available in bookshops or from wilkinsonpublishing.com.au or Amazon Prime and Booktopia.
IT’S the biggest horror show in Australian sport so far this year – and an astonishing one, even more so, I would suggest, than the Adelaide Crows in the AFL or the Brisbane Broncos in the NRL last year, or the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash cricket two years running now.
That would be Melbourne Victory, traditionally – at least in their own eyes – the pride and the powerhouse of soccer’s A League, the second most successful team on-field in the competition’s history, the best-supported, and with a corporate profile to match any club in any code of Australian sport.
And yet they hit rock bottom last weekend when arch rivals Melbourne City thrashed them 6-0, the heaviest and most embarrassing defeat in their history, leaving them at the bottom of the 12-team ladder with two wins from 10 matches. That follows last season’s equally inglorious 10th place finish, of 11, with six wins from 26 game, and 15 defeats.
There has also been unprecedented drama in the boardroom with rebel director Richard Wilson walking out and offering his 2.31 million share – a 16 per cent stake in the club – for sale to any fans who have the wherewithal and the inclination to buy into a position to make some noise about what’s going on behind the scenes.
The supporters are already doing that, staging a protest at a training session with a large banner reading “A line has been crossed.” And prominent commentator Robbie Slater has ripped into them, declaring that mass sackings are required and that players have given up.
Usually what happens when any sports club is locked into this sort of chaos on and off the field is that, first, the coach gets the bullet – favourite son Grant Brebner is therefore on extremely thin ice – and then the action shifts to the administration. By definition, soccer clubs are volatile environments so it surely can’t be long before something gives here.
NO MATTER how big a boxing fan you might be – and I’m mid-range, I suppose – you would surely struggle to rustle up much interest in Anthony Mundine going around one again, this time against Michael Zerafa in Bendigo on Saturday night.Embed from Getty Images
Mundine is 45 and has been washed up for, what, three or four years now? Zerafa is a massive 17 years younger and can go a bit, so it will be a major surprise if this is anything other than a sadly predictable embarrassment, like most of Choc’s late-life futilities have been. And yet he still can’t bring himself to state unequivocally that this will be his last, settling for “more than likely” it will be.
Perhaps even more sadly, I hear on the grapevine that former IBF middleweight world champion Sam Soliman, who is two years older than even Mundine, is planning a comeback after retiring two years ago. For various reasons in and out of the ring I have been a long-time admirer and supporter of Soliman, so I hope this rumour is false and if it isn’t, that wiser heads prevail.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.