The fickle nature of cricket fans

Last updated 07:00 22/01/2013
Graeme Smith
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HUGE GAP: Graeme Smith shakes hands with Jeetan Patel after the Proteas smashed the Black Caps in the second test.

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I feel for the New Zealand Cricket team.

Not because of their abysmal recent run of results, or the flawed approach its governing body has taken towards managing players, and how it goes about influencing change. 

Not because the team is constantly under pressure missing key players due to injury, some even to politics. 

Not because our superstars in the past have drifted away from the team too soon and too easily. 

And not even because our domestic scene seems incapable of producing enough world class players, if any at all these days.

I feel for the New Zealand Cricket team, because they have one of the most fickle bases of supporters known to mankind.

Such a statement isn't so shocking. 

After all, as New Zealanders, a vast majority of us wouldn't mind the national economy flip flopping inconsistently provided the All Blacks have won their last few games. 

We are accustomed to our teams punching above their weight, and this small nation demands the absolute best from its modern day gladiators. 

Competition is in the air we breathe, it circulates in the blood pumping from our heart to other vital organs. 

We can't survive without it.

But the New Zealand Cricket team seems to attract an average supporter far more cynical than most. 

Your average Black Caps fan is a Rubik's Cube of emotion. 

One day he or she will be coloured evenly black and white - passionate for this nation, its team and the players. 

These people stand on the banks of grass at an international match chanting away with a beer in one hand, and a New Zealand flag in the next. 

Some dress up and join the Beige Brigade, others drag their kids along in the vain hope that one day, the child sitting there bored out of his mind wishing he was watching cartoons might break the heavens in two with a mighty slash of willow.  

Yet the next day comes around, and like a good length delivery nipping off the seam just a fraction, other colours have crept their way onto the face of the supporter's Rubik's Cube.

There are flecks of yellow here and there - caution and anxiety.  

A favourite player is injured, or there are mutterings of disquietude amongst the ranks. 

The captain hasn't been scoring enough runs, or he has looked out of sorts of late. 

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The openers are scratchy, and the bowling attack is still searching for someone to stand up and lead them with consistency. 

Suddenly, the Rubik's Cube is no longer dominated by black and white. 

Yellow is streaming its way in, followed by the colour red. 

Some fans are quicker than others to drop the bundle, but there are those who will take a less than exemplary performance as treason. 

They instantly renounce their support online, and sway others to follow suit. 

The yellows soon turn red too, as more substandard performances create too much pressure and it ripples out into the supporters' ranks. 

Many break under the strain, much like a top order facing an onslaught on a green pitch against a world class pace attack. 

The black and white faithful that remain stay that way, hoping like hell respite will come soon, and when it does, it comes flooding.

But why is it the New Zealand Cricket team has such fickle supporters?

The number of people who pack up their shiny things and head west with the caravans, far before the going has even gotten tough, is quite remarkable. 

There are Football teams in the English Premier League who are yet to ever come close to winning a title, and others who have only held the trophy once. 

That's ignoring those in the grades below still struggling just to attract sponsorship. 

Yet fans fill the seats and support their favourite teams year after year, regardless of what happens. 

Over there, you are born into which team you support, and you will do so until the day you die.  S

ure, riots break out because of unfavourable results, but at least these fans stand up and fight for their team's honour. 

I'm not suggesting violence is a better alternative here, but in New Zealand, it's more like you signed a contract with some fine print at the bottom. 

The text allows you to rip the contract in half once a few dark clouds are seen on the horizon. 

New Zealand fans then go looking elsewhere, for another team somewhere around the globe.

They might even start following another sporting code.  Shocking, I know.

Do these fickle fans of the New Zealand Cricket team have any right to be so?

Is their impatience due a lull in achievement a result of a team who could once smite the best cricketing nations in the world with more ferocity than Zeus? 

Or was this team once the most dominant, throwing their weight around and reaping trophy after trophy?

It certainly isn't that. 

New Zealand has rarely been a cricket superpower. 

Sure, there were times when an opponent didn't look forward to playing us, let alone in our backyard. 

Richard Hadlee was world class, and carried New Zealand on his shoulders, earning the respect of players and fans alike around the globe. 

We had a batting genius and an innovative leader in Martin Crowe, who took us extremely close to the 1992 World Cup. 

There was the mighty all-rounder father son combination of Lance and Chris Cairns, the later who sent England's Chris Reid ducking in fear at one of his brilliant slower balls. 

The ball wasn't short, and cannoned into a gobsmacked Reid's stumps. 

New Zealand also had the charismatic and admirable Stephen Fleming, a captain regarded around the world for his strategies, even when he lacked appropriate personnel. 

We even had Shane Bond, the one effective answer New Zealand has ever really had to our mortal enemy and the world dominating Australia. 

But despite these brief and spectacular explosions of talent, New Zealand never really stood at the top, and if they did so, it wasn't for very long.

Hadlee took 431 wickets in Tests, at an astonishing average of 22.29. 

Crowe bewildered oppositions in the 1992 World Cup by using spin bowler Dipak Patel to open the bowling. 

Chris Cairns butchered India single-handedly with a glorious century to give New Zealand the Champion's Trophy in the year 2000. 

And under Stephen Fleming and John Bracewell, New Zealand even became an extremely feared limited overs outfit.  
But never, were we the dominant force. 

So why is it the fickle New Zealand Cricket fan rages onwards.  He or she feels they deserve results. Why?

Our cricketing history has been pieced together by one off moments of brilliance, performances by players who can break records or command thousands around the world to take note. 

These players then shrink into the abyss of wasted potential and expectations set too high, long after the fans have given up in droves. 

Others play majestic innings or bowl incredible lines one day, only to be unable to front up the next.  Consistency is a gigantic part of Cricket, and separates the boys from men. 

The problem is, New Zealand's fans seem to have this idea that we should be running the show. 

They watch Shane Bond rip through the Australia top order in the 2003 World Cup, only to hang their heads in shame as our batsmen collapse in a feeble heap. 

They converge on scapegoats and underperforming players, looking to focus their rage on anyone who enjoys a beer or causes a few unsavoury headlines.  

Andrew Symonds, a famous Australian all-rounder, was a PR nightmare. 

He loved a drink, and had his contract famously dumped in the 2009 ICC World T20 for a late night drinking episode. 

Before that, he had also chosen to avoid a team meeting, preferring to go fishing instead. 

The man was involved in a pub brawl with a fan, made unsavoury remarks to reporters, and was thrown in and out of the Australian team countless times. 

Symonds was even the target of racial abuse, and missed out on the Allan Border medal in 2006 despite polling the highest, due to a suspension he had received that was once again related to drunken revelry. 

But the man was still a crowd favourite, and capable of the most stunning shots and deliveries.  He was even supremely dynamic in the field. 

Whether Symonds needed more direction from Cricket Australia's suits is unquestionable. 

But how to go about implementing strategies to better a player's private is tough. 

If they even tried, that remains to be told.

New Zealand Cricket should have learnt from this. 

If there is one thing the fickle fan broods over, and rightly so, it is the mismanagement of our nation's cricketing resources. 

We have players in need of guidance, and more that require their board's backing. 

Instead, these players are allowed to be picked apart by the media, and thus, turned on by the public. 

Instead of intervening and defending their roster, New Zealand Cricket perpetuates a brutal machine in which one of its players screws up, only to be singled out and attacked. 

Rehabilitation is a tough road travelled, one made even more steep when a player's board seems willing to let him wander it alone. 

The fact that Jesse Ryder does not currently wish to play for his country adds testament to the fact that those in charge of New Zealand Cricket are just not doing enough. 

Any time a talented player walks from the pride and joy that is representing his country, it raises questions. 

Recently, even Ross Taylor has been with a short ball, once again left to play out this year's omnibus of Shortland Street with the media.

It's time the fickle fan stood up.  It's time you accepted this is your team.  This is your country. 

Sport is in your genetic makeup, and those yellow and red spots drifting onto your Rubik's Cube of emotion helps no one. 

Results are not going New Zealand's way, but they rarely did in the first place, and denouncing your passion for the Black Caps only weakens them more. 

As a nation, we have to support our players. 

We need to stop treating every single negative word a journalist writes as gospel, and demand the only real thing any of us fans truly deserve - the governing body of cricket in New Zealand to stand up and start working for its players.

In the end, it's not what your country can do for you.  It's not even what you can do for your country. 

It's a fine balance between the two.  Pack the stands, cheer for your players and support your team. 

Jesse Ryder will come back one day, and so too will Ross Taylor. 

Accept that what has happened in the past might not be commendable, and then move on.  Injured players will become healthy, and return. 

And when that time comes, I hope the fickle New Zealand Cricket fan is standing on the banks with that flag raised high. 

We will probably never experience a decade of dominance like the West Indies in the 80s, or Australia through the 90s and 2000s. 

But if you quit now, where will you be when Brendon McCullum scoops Shaun Tait over his head for six on the way to the fastest T20 century? 

Where will you be when Ross Taylor bludgeons Pakistan out of the World Cup, or Jesse Ryder leaps at point to take a catch that defies the outright physics of this planet? 

Where will you be when our young pace attack comes from the shadows to butcher a powerful batting line up into pieces?  Hopefully not in another stand watching another sport, because these glorious moments will come. 

It is inevitable. 

And it is these glorious moments we, as fans of a team that has never been the best, must live for. 

You may as well, because I know when these moments happen you will be brought to your feet with sheer adoration. 

If you've already quit, you'll only end up supporting them again. After all, that is the way of the fickle New Zealand Cricket supporter. 

So avoid that, and just stick with them.  A country divided is a country ripe for the picking.


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