SA can’t win battle in the stands

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Auckland

“SORRY boss,” was how the New Zealand Herald headlined its front page on Monday. “We might not be in at 2pm (today) – we’ll be cheering on the Black Caps.”

In a country in which you can play or watch any game you like as long as there’s a ball involved and it is oval, cricket’s World Cup has finally hit the big time.

Also on the front page, a “mock letter” read: “To whom it may concern, please excuse _________________ from work on Tuesday, March 24th.

“They may not be in the office, but rest assured they’ll be putting in the hard yards at Eden Park with helping us get over the line against SA.

“Come down and support us yourself. We’ve got a seat with your name on it and a flag that won’t wave itself.

“Yours sincerely, Brendon McCullum”

Pages two and three of the Herald, New Zealand’s leading national daily, were devoted to the cricket – as were the first three pages in the sport section.

Tickets for today’s World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and SA remained available on Monday, but the cheapest were going for the equivalent of R8721.

A full house of 45 000 is straining the seams of a venue that is home to New Zealand’s most one-eyed crowd. Eden Park is, of course, a rugby stadium and the unusual dimensions of the playing field as well as the towering stands make it unlike any other cricket venue.

Although a sizable contingent of SA supporters – many of them emigres based in Auckland’s North Shore – are attending the match, there is no mistaking where the crowd’s loyalty lies: its heart is black.

That is in stark contrast to the other semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Thursday, where pre-match ticket sales indicate that as much as 70% of spectators will support India and not their opponents, Australia.

Which means that as many as 29 400 in a crowd of up to 42 000 could shout for the away side in the nation’s greatest city.

And that despite Australian captain Michael Clarke having tweeted last week, “I call on all Australian cricket lovers to paint the SCG gold on Thursday. We need your support. #goldout”

The next day, Steve Smith also put in his 140 characters’ worth: “Can’t wait for the semi final vs India. Let’s fill the place with Gold! #gogold”

Instead it seems the SCG will sing the blues on Thursday. And not the New South Wales blues.

SA know what that feels like, what with the vast majority of the 86 876 who did not quite fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on February 22 leaving in good spirits after their team, India, beat AB de Villiers’ men by 130 runs.

The MCG will either be a sea of blue or a vault of gold for the final on Sunday, a reality the fans of no other team could hope to change.

Happily, then, the World Cup will be won and lost not in the stands but on the field.

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