I am a cricket tragic
OPINION: That familiar stirring sensation sets in each November.
As the nation's rugby boots are packed away, providing an all-too-brief respite from our soul-searching about whether the All Blacks are humiliating their opponents with sufficient gusto, my pre-season preparation begins.
The Gray-Nicolls bat is retrieved from the cupboard, series schedules are scrutinised for possible victories and I start to brace myself for a long summer of debates on whether we most need a quality wrist spinner or a hard-hitting all-rounder.
My name is Sam and I am a cricket tragic.
''But wait,'' I hear you say.
''Isn't this meant to be about love?''
To which the only correct response is: if a crisply hit cover drive or perfect in-swinger can't stir the very depths of your soul, what can?
While the complexity of the female mind can befuddle me, cricket's many depths and eccentricities are a delight to behold.
One of the most common complaints about test cricket, admittedly from the ill-informed, is that nothing happens.
That completely misses the point. The fact that five days of play can end in a draw should be celebrated.
In a world that can be too demanding, it's a welcome relief to find a sport where even the commentators spend large periods of play talking about pigeons, post boxes and past glories - anything other than the game in front of them.
My introduction to the sport came in 1995 when I arrived in New Zealand after a childhood spent in cricket-bereft Malaysia.
It didn't take long for my love of the game to reach religious levels of devotion.
On an old primary school worksheet uncovered recently, I had listed exactly two role models - Jesus and Daniel Vettori.
That I threw myself into cricket's arms so quickly is not surprising. In many ways, our fate was written in the stars.
Being half-Indian, the game was encoded in my genes, while as a chubby child I also appreciated a sport where you could remain largely sedentary for the vast majority of a match.
Childhood dreams of playing alongside Brendon McCullum and Chris Martin were cruelly dashed by a complete lack of ability.
The only memorable moment from junior cricket was put there by a rogue cricket ball, which took a wicked bounce off the pitch and left the indentation of its seam between my eyes.
Backyard cricket proved the great leveller, however, where genuine skill was gazumped by an ability to master the conditions of our suburban driveway.
A wheelie bin served as makeshift stumps, over the fence was six and out, while there was an oft-violated gentlemen's agreement on whether catches had ''carried'' to our imaginary wicketkeeper.
The generous scoring zones and absence of fielders meant runs flowed, but a gaping crack that jagged through the centre of the driveway kept things interesting.
Some deliveries would shoot through at ankle height while others would rear up alarmingly, forcing the batsman into a hurried crouch as the tennis ball skimmed over his head.
Match statistics were meticulously kept in a spreadsheet on my computer. It's still a point of pride that, despite my limited technique, I hit the only triple century on our ground.
My time as a spectator, both at home and in front of the television set, has brought me similar pleasure - most often against our trans-Tasman foe.
In 2010, McCullum's audacious scoops over his own head against Shaun Tait - one of the fastest bowlers in the world - made me glad I had queued for an hour to get into AMI Stadium.
I will never forget the delight around the ground as McCullum and Vettori scooped, slashed and smashed their way to victory against Australia in 2005, reaching what was then a world-record chase of 332.
Australia had already won the series, of course, but that hardly mattered. Nothing could puncture our giddy, unimpeachable joy as we flooded out into the night.
As in all good relationships, our love has endured several tests - dozens, in fact; some worse than others.
Black Caps supporters have suffered through batting collapses on turning pitches, seaming wickets and completely benign surfaces, while unexpected victories at world cups have inevitably been followed by a lopsided, soul-crushing defeat.
The latest fiasco, an abject surrender to South Africa last week for 45 all out - our third-lowest test score - was perhaps our darkest day together.
Yet even as batsman after batsman trudged back to the dressing room, I knew my love affair was far from over.
For every catastrophic loss there is a backs-to-the-wall victory against highly fancied opponents or a moment of individual brilliance bordering on the obscene.
We can be clean-swept by Bangladesh one season, then beat Australia in a thrilling test match the next year; lose five tests in a row, then defeat Sri Lanka on their home turf for the first time in 14 years.
After 18 years, the game still keeps me guessing.
That's true love.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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