The New Zealand public seizes the chance to set the Test record against Australia | cricket

IIt’s easy to get caught up in the narrative that Test cricket lives and breathes thanks to England fans, whether they’re cladding themselves in Birmingham New Street or playing the trumpet in Technicolor jerseys alongside the Barmy Army in Rajkot.

But Test cricket is perfectly capable of slipping from its jandals and falling into a deck chair far from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The first Test between the New Zealand and Australian men’s teams, which begins at Wellington’s beautiful Basin Reserve on Thursday, is sold out and Christchurch’s Hagley Oval, venue for the second Test, is expected to follow suit.

It’s been a while since the Australians played a Test across the Tasman Sea. So long that neither Mitchell Starc nor captain Pat Cummins have ever played one. In fact, England have flown around the world for three tours of New Zealand since Australia last played a five-day match on New Zealand turf in 2016. At some point, politics and profit joined forces to create a cold mess – but that’s the strange machinations of the International Cricket Council for you.

Still, the New Zealand crowd, having just seen the Black Caps beat an undermanned South African team 2-0, is, despite the odds, ready for the challenge of their rowdy neighbors. Somehow, with a population of just over five million, most of whom are obsessed with rugby union, the New Zealand cricket team has not only won the 2021 World Test Championship but is also topping the current table (with England in eighth place) .

But for all the outstanding, unexpected successes of the New Zealand Test team, the Australians are their brain fart, their soft underbelly, their recurring naked nightmare. The Black Caps have beaten Australia in a Test only once since 1993 – in Hobart in 2011. And they have lost nine of their 10 home Tests against Australia in the 21st century. They followed on the 10th and saved it thanks to poor light and persistent rain rather than any memorable rearguard action.

“This team has done amazing things,” says New Zealand Herald sports editor Winston Aldworth, “but the team they can’t beat in Tests is Australia.” The greatest New Zealand team of all time couldn’t beat a Boxing Day Test at the MCG Getting your foot in the door has something of the little cousin, the big cousin.

Pat Cummins and Tim Southee pose with the series trophy in Wellington on Wednesday. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

“And the Kiwis are obsessed with hating David Warner and Steve Smith, they accept the unlikability story a bit, we always have, just like we hated Greg Matthews in the 1980s. We hate them because they’re so damn good.”

Aside from the collective pantomime disgust, there’s something else that could attract people to the stadium: after many years behind a paywall, New Zealand cricket will be shown on free-to-air television until 2026, following the collapse of streaming service Spark.

Aldworth says: “That time behind a paywall coincided with New Zealand cricket’s greatest period, when they were number one, full of all-time greats. Many people were denied the process of witnessing the Test match only by osmosis from the television across the room while our golden generation played.

“And now Ross Taylor is gone, the beating heart of New Zealand cricket (Neil) Wagner is gone, Trent Boult and Tim Southee are on the decline – although Kane (Williamson) obviously moves on for good – so it feels like the last chance for “Kiwis to see this great generation of Test cricketers.”

Wagner, the great enforcer, announced his retirement on Tuesday after being told he would not be selected for the series against Australia. The big man beat England by four for 62 just a year ago to help New Zealand win the Test at the Basin Reserve.

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He came to New Zealand from his native South Africa to further his career as a cricketer – and it paid off. He retires with 260 Test wickets at just over 27 – only Sir Richard Hadlee has a better strike rate than New Zealand bowlers who have taken 100 wickets. And if the New Zealand public is denied another bout with Smith, whose wicket he took four out of five times during the Kiwis’ 2019-20 tour of Australia, they can fortify themselves forever with visions of Wagner driving the ball with all his might Goal hits. heartfelt anger.

Enforcer great Neil Wagner announced his retirement after not being selected for the Australia series. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/AP

The White Ferns’ wait for a Test continues, by the way – it’s 20 years since they last donned their white jerseys, in a drawn Test against England in Scarborough. Amelia Kerr said in a recent interview how much she would like to take part in the five-day game – but despite the popularity of the men’s Tests, it does not appear to be a priority for the authorities.

Cricket in New Zealand will always be second fiddle to the All Blacks, no matter how many more glorious Test centuries Williamson can add to his collection, without fanfare or fireworks. Aldworth tells the story of his wife, who met Trent Boult in a sandwich shop and asked for a photo for their son. His nice friend took a photo for her and it wasn’t until she got to the counter and the waiter asked her why she didn’t want Williamson in her photo that she realized who the nice friend was.

“The New Zealand public doesn’t love the All Blacks, they’re obsessed with them,” he says. “But cricket fans have a real affection for these guys.”

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