|Ireland v Australia One Day International 2012|
Wizards of Oz - by a Kiwi!
Ireland's New Zealand-born National Coach Ken Rutherford breaks the habit of a lifetime to extol the virtues of his neighbouring Antipodeans.
I am under orders to tell the readers about what makes the Australian cricket team of today and yesteryear the combative, determined entity that it has always been. A task of course I would prefer to shy away from. It's not in the make-up of a Kiwi to say too many complimentary things about our "Big Brother". But, for this auspicious match, I will allow myself to extol the odd Okker virtue ... just don't tell my countrymen!
At the heart of the issue is the extreme will to win that characterises any Australian. Losing is not to be contemplated. Take the present dominance of Australian men and women in world sport. Rugby union, rugby league, netball and cricket are a few key sports that have carried the World Champion, Australia tag. Add to this the Olympic Gamess and the success story continues.
Without doubt Australia has owed much of its sporting prowess to good planning. The development of elite athletes in a wide range of sports is Government-driven (academies and sporting institutes are the state vehicles) with sport viewed as an important aspect of creating a feeling of well-being within its citizens. Everyone shares in the success.
The love affair cricketers of Australia have with the baggy green cap provides the incentive for every young cricketer in that country. As with the silver fern covering the heart of a new Zealand All Black, this rather old-fashioned looking adornment is the most sought after piece of apparel on the continent. You would have thought some kind of baseball equivalent might have infiltrated this tradition. But no - tradition means much with regard to the "baggy green" and this symbol is the motivating force for many cricket aspirants.
Playing against Australia provides the ultimate test. Not only are your cricketing skills examined, but the psychological side of cricket is on trial. To understate the obvious, I will say that the Aussies are very tough opponents. When you oppose them you are made to feel rather unwelcome, like walking into a convention of mothers-in-law … you don't really want to be there.
Intimidation is the atmosphere. But I have never found it in bad taste. Indeed, when you play Australia where no quarters are given and never taken, if New Zealand ever did manage to win a match, the Aussies were remarkably fair losers. But you knew that the next match would be all about retribution, the foot planted even more firmly on the accelerator and a few new words learned in the process. And, of course, Australians are a very thirsty bunch. In the old days of Chappell, Lillee and company, the old adage of enjoying oneself on and off the field in equal measures was pursued vigorously. Nowadays the sports scientists have infiltrated the ranks and the new breed of cricketer only has a beer after a gallon or two of fluid replacement mixture, which used to be called Fosters but is now named Powerade.
But I am sure the pleasant assignment of a match in Belfast will ensure their whistles are wetted with the frothy stuff. And I am sure this challenge will not be shirked. For, whatever Aussies set out to achieve, it is done with great vigour and gusto. I just hope that the publicans of Belfast are ready!
Ken Rutherford played 56 times for New Zealand and was captain from 1992 to 1995. One of his three Test centuries was made against Australia in 1992.