‘Death riding” is an Australian sporting term meaning to hope your team does badly. It’s not surprising that players who didn’t make the team sometimes nurse the hope that those who did will have shockers. It’s obviously selfish, as sportspeople often are, but if coaches adhere to the principle that you shouldn’t change a winning team – and they tend to – what’s an ambitious man or woman to do?
It’s really just the flipside to the dog-eat-dog attitude incumbents adopt towards up-and-comers whom they perceive as a threat to their position. It may be a thing of the past, but senior All Blacks have been known to withhold advice and play through injury rather than give their backup an opportunity to advance.
Fans also do it. In 2007, some Kiwis – perhaps that should be many Cantabrians – switched their allegiance to the Wallabies because the NZRU chose to ignore Robbie Deans and give the Great Redeemer, as Graham Henry was known in Wales before it all turned to custard, a chance to redeem himself.
Those who death-rode the Black Caps in protest at the shameful treatment of Ross Taylor – quite a community, judging by talkback and message boards – might have been taken aback by their hex’s sheer effectiveness.
Anyone who logged on to check the score after the first day’s play in the first test would have been pleasantly surprised: South Africa 252/3; a tough day in the field for the Black Caps, but they were hanging in there against the best in the world.
On closer examination, and to their pop-eyed astonishment, browsers would have discovered that New Zealand had already had a bat that lasted until just after the drinks break in the pre-lunch session. The contest was all over before lunch on the third day, having run less than half its allotted course.
Any Kiwi cricket enthusiasts who weren’t grimly aware we hold the record for the lowest innings total in 135 years of test cricket – 26 against England in 1955 – were soon having their noses rubbed in it.
Actually, the more you look into it, the worse it gets. Many of the pitifully low totals are from the era of uncovered wickets, when pitches were left open to the elements for the duration of the game and batsmen often had to negotiate damp, unpredictable surfaces. A number of them predate the 20th century.
New Zealand didn’t start playing test cricket until 1930, but has made up for lost time having posted three of the four lowest scores since World War II. It could therefore be argued that epic failures are in our cricketing DNA. The survivors of the earlier disasters could point out they were amateurs competing against professionals, whereas the current mob are themselves professional, at least in the sense of getting paid for playing.
Little more than a year ago at the same venue – Newlands in Cape Town – Australia was skittled for 47 after dismissing the hosts for 96. Twenty-three wickets fell in the day’s play; for only the second time in test cricket history, both teams batted twice on the same day.
One wonders why new skipper Brendon McCullum chose to bat first, given the contribution of the Newlands wicket, our recent batting woes and that South Africa has the best fast-bowling attack in world cricket. Expect the worst, they say, and you’ll never be disappointed. But surely one thing we have every right not to expect from the Black Caps is hubris.