New Zealanders aren’t all bad sports. In fact most of them are lovely people who welcomed us with open arms when we visited their country some years ago.
They even made sheep jokes. When I asked a friend there what the population was, he replied: “Including or excluding sheep?” He knew the exact numbers of both – 4m people and 69m sheep.
It reminded me of the TV travellogue on New Zealand I once saw where the commentator ended with: “New Zealand, where men are men and sheep are nervous.”
All this as a preliminary to the report that some spectators abused South African fielders on the boundary during the first T20 match in Wellington, which South Africa lost. A couple complained they had been “constantly sworn at and insulted”.
But senior team member Johan Botha played it down, claiming it was much the same the world over. Besides, opening batsman Richard Levi had sensationally answered such abuse with his record-breaking innings in the next match.
Botha was right. It was nothing personal. A minority of New Zealand supporters do it all their opponents. Dr Mark Falcous of the Dunedin School of Physical Education says it is a response to anxiety over their team’s performance. They regularly tell “Pommy bastards” to go back home, and even subject Australian fans to “vitriolic abuse”.
One Wallaby fan from Sydney reported: “Some of the charming exchanges involved sexual comments about my wife and instructions that we should all f*** off back to Australia. A bloke even attempted to spit on us.”
The previous New Zealand cricket captain, Daniel Vettori, was probably one of the most sporting players in recent times. In September 2009 he retracted an appeal when his wicket-keeper, Brendon McCullum, ran out English batsman Paul Collingwood, who had left his crease after mistakenly thinking the ball was dead.
And in November last year Vettori refused to appeal for out when Zimbabwean batsman Regis Chakabva was stranded out of his crease after Vettori himself had accidentally blocked the non-striker at the bowler’s end, Malcolm Waller.
Alas, the same sportsmanship has not been inherited by his successor as captain, McCullum. In December 2006, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara had just stroked a single to reach his century. The other batsman, Muttia Muralitheran, having passed the batting crease, saw Sangakkara raise his bat in acknowledgement of the crowd’s applause, and assumed the ball was dead. But when he walked up to congratulate his partner, McCullum stumped him out.
Even worse was to follow, in 2010. On that occasion McCullum claimed to have caught out Bangladeshi captain Shakib Al Hasan behind the wicket for 87, when the video replays showed, without doubt, that the ball had first landed on the grass before entering the wicket-keeper’s gloves. That’s not bad sportsmanship. That’s simply cheating.
So I’ll be watching McCullum very carefully in his remaining matches against the Proteas. I don’t trust him. And if I feel the need to I shall shout abuse at him, albeit from the safety of our lounge. I might even suggest he has a relationship with one of the 69 million.
I know Bryce Lawrence is still the New Zealander South Africans most love to hate, but I believe he is just incompetent, not a crook.