All you can say is on to Adelaide, and win, win, win. Last week, for three and a half days two New Zealand cricket supporters braved all types of Australian beer and cuisine, eighteen thousand temperamental ockers and the Brisbane heat. This is their story.
Day One: Thursday
On the first day of the test the ground looks like a beach. The atmosphere is like a beach carnival as just shy of 19 thousand fans bask in the Gabba sun, or relax under the shaded rooves that look like cream gazebos or beach umbrellas.
The oval is designed for cricket. There are two levels of seating encircling the arena, with maroon and yellow seats filling out the numbers of the crowd. On the ground the grass seems to be sparkling as if it were the white sand of Surfers, glinting as the sun fills the air with intense light. Beach balls and cheers go up in the uncovered seats. First beers arrive. The crowd is settling in.
Chris arrived last night with a bottle of 42 below. He got decked out on the first day in his silver fern shirt and glasses, and with our sombreros the driver waved us on for free. Cricket here is a national sport, (though we later find out public transport is free with tickets), and Test match day is a kind of fever.
A lady on the bus, with a green and gold cap tucked in her bag, lets us know that one of our fast bowlers is out over night, but she is kind. Cricket is one of those games, it happens on the day, she offers us. She was being kind. On form she said, she would have to go with Australia.
McGrath and Gillespie find a line, but Sinclair and Richardson look untroubled. Kyle Mills was in for James Franklin, giving Chris and I the jitters. Where was the pace of Ian Butler? Michael Kasprowicz, the hometown hero comes on, bang on target, brimming with aggression. He gets bounce and movement away from the left-hander, cleaning up Richardson and Fleming in an over.
The first day continues dismally for us, with neither Astle nor Styris getting their eye in completely, but the crowd loves it. All their chants seem to go to the tune off the mundane 'boring, boring' tune. They call on the blonde clown prince 'Warney, Warney'. He turns at slip to give them a bow.
The biggest mob attraction is the beach ball, with yells if it looks like ballooning out of the stand. It does roll on to the field. Glenn McGrath is down there. He has already had a yell for doing a few stretches. McGrath innocently looks at the beach ball and looks away, focused. In a moment or two he turns his head again and the crowd is beside itself. The ball is bowled and to this he gives his attention. With the cherry settled in the keeper's gloves, McGrath walks nonchalantly over, kicks the beach ball along, flicks it, and grabs it. There is a roar of boos as he reaches out as if to deflate it. The jester turns his head to the crowd with a grin, spins the ball and kicks a goal back into their midst to the cheers of adulation.
The carnival atmosphere persists despite the best efforts of the ground staff, who have banned musical instruments and whistles, which are routinely confiscated from patrons all day. The seats in the upper level are allocated, giving stripes of boozy punters crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in licensed areas, between hundreds of empty sober seats. Macmillan does alright, for a while. He hits Warne for a six, but then self-destructs in familiar style. We are five down for less than two hundred, and when Sinclair gets caught go six down. Kasprowicz has been on fire since the first ball and his home crowd is loving it.
At the end of the day: hope. We know these guys can bat. McCullum, Oram and Vettori show little fear on the pitch. Vettori comes out and hits two crisp straight drives, the best shots of the day, the kind of strokeplay we were hoping to see from Fleming. McCullum is fired by the third umpire who gives him out stumped, against highly doubtful evidence. To his credit, even when he gets fired in the second innings with another shocker, the man in form avoids theatrics and walks straight off. Oram plays solidly on what is a good batting track, with true bounce and pace. The score rattles past two hundred.
A slower crowd this morning. There are fewer delights, they think, in seeing the Aussies walk over an inferior team. Oram and Vettori are more than capable, and Oram has been a destroyer in the past. Boyo, what an exhilarating first session. It was almost as good as watching Cairns and Oram maul South Africa. Vettori got out early in two minds between batting time, and striking the ball. Oram plays a solid role, allowing the commentators to lap up the batting skills of Kyle Mills. At number 10 with an average of 39 in domestic cricket they laud his technique. He uses his feet to Warne and hits him straight and clean for a six, then through the covers for a four.
Mills can't follow through the whole way though. He plays a scintillating innings that nearly helps Oram to his century, but Warne gets him caught at slip. Oram works around twos, reaches his hundred and then cuts loose with three massive sixes, two in a row off Kasprowicz. There is discomfort in the stands, and some one calls out "what are you going to do now Ponting?" after Oram clears his un-Australian defensive field with some amazing meaty blows. We're sitting as yesterday, high up in the second tier, right behind the bowlers arm. For just a moment it looks like we might be in business.
The day is hot. Very hot. The sun here is much more intense. Martin plays his supporting role well, but it can't last. Oram is left on 126 just after lunch, but Chris and I have been jubilant all morning. We're shouting again soon, as Mills earns a little more respect swinging the ball into Hayden's pads. Hayden out! The Queensland stands are shell shocked, radio commentators taken aback and Kiwi fans ecstatic. Langer and Ponting stabilise, but Ponting holes out after reaching fifty. The 353 in the bank seems good total. Langer and Martin have other ideas, in what are now near-perfect batting conditions. The Kiwi attack looks a bit limited when the third seamer comes on.
"Styris!" yells out an indignant character behind us, a curious Asian guy in glasses and a dodgy looking moustache. On his own, it seems he obviously knows and invests in his sport. On the first day he was in a loose AFL singlet for Hawthorne, and today he is wearing a Super 12 jersey. He is an odd beacon of difference in the epitome of white bloke crowd. Chris suggests the image of the guy at home, day and night, in front of multiple cable TV stations.
We retreat to the Pineapple Hotel to air conditioning, cold beer, and a view on the television of what exactly is going on at Vettori's end. You can tell Australia is a potent test match country when the ACB has the negotiating power to black out test match coverage on Brisbane television until 2pm that day. The patrons are genial, when they find out we are kiwis. One of the bar staff looks a bit sick though, with a disease much like that all too familiar post-All Black-loss syndrome. "That was not good, this morning, not good". It gets worse for him, Vettori finds the crack just as things look becalmed and Langer is out, LBW. New Zealand has the momentum.
Clarke and Martyn, the two form batsmen get going. Two top batsmen playing fantastic top order batting shots with ease. We belatedly decide to go back and watch them bat, but it is too late, and the cold beer has settled in deliciously. With Gilchrist still to come they look ominous.
We arrive late, and I spy a left hander batting: wicket! The score is poised at 5 down for 222, with New Zealand on top. One more wicket - just one more and into the tail.
We got on the bus a little later this morning after crazy combinations of cheap drinks the night before. "There you go," says the lady from the first day, also running late. "What did I tell you?" The only other person on the bus is a man sitting in front of her. We find out it is her husband, someone in Queensland cricket. They communicate in strange ways, intimately, but barely speaking without much eye contact.
This is a Saturday crowd who have come to party to the tune of leather and willow. Both Michael Clarke and the crowd warmed up the night before and just keep on going. We're sitting down the front of the general admission today, no allocated seats, sombreros providing shade and the Test on a knife edge. Michael Clarke has a four to hit before the break to bring up his hundred. Chris Martin to bowl. Yorker, we yell! It's short and wide. Clarke joins the immortals Walters and Waugh by belting it away for his hundred on the last ball, and demoralising the kiwis. The crowd rises to a man, dwarfing Chris and I, who don't move, numb, feeling the celebrations of the last two days on shaky ground.
The sun worn face of the Queensland ocker, a bloke getting old disgracefully in indeterminate middle age, is out in force, travelling in groups. Earlier, we listened to the rhythm of the group sage as he slowly declared Lehman to have a mug "only a mother could love".
Outside the ground, after the day, a Roman legion of them shuffles down the street towards the pub door, its splendid breastplate and armour crafted out of Gold XXXX cardboard slabs.
At the bus stop, a young English bird of a Grey Lynn disposition has a few words to me about sport culture. She displays a nouveau mullet - long down one side only at the back and short on top - and is dressed in black. Pack behaviour, with its beer-sodden communal voyeurism at the tight pants and attractive women of the sub-tropical Brisbane streets is her gripe; the sports fan the essence of the ugly ogler.
How unattractive, she says, of the competitive urge, yelling out "moron! moron!" across the busy street to a rough-haired tub-bellied bloke. He is swaying dangerously in front of the pub. He retorts with conviction, giving her the fingers, and worse, rolls into a cab and shoots off. The Amazon melts away as my friend returns, so I never find out if she doesn't like men looking at her or was just looking for some kind of ally against this sea of sport.
The Aussies grab the advantage in the arvo, pushing their way into a lead. They both show their class. Once again the kiwis fight back, behind the eight ball now, but not out of the game as they nab both Clarke and Gilchrist with barely a hundred run lead. The tail begins to tumble. I might get a five day test for Christmas.
Did I say all the chants went to the one tune? One was just a bit different. It was parts comedy and tragedy as "ooh, ahh Glenn McGrath, say, Ooh Aah Glenn McGrath" rang out spontaneously after the end of the day.
McGrath, once the ultimate bunny came to the wicket and batted like a king. He swatted Vettori with a shot reminiscent of Steve Waugh, over the mid-wicket fence. Martin and Vettori sense a wicket at any moment, to give either of them their five wicket bag to set the game up for their country. The long suffering Jacob Oram having bowled long and hard without reward has chances spilled first by McCullum and then by Mark Richardson at midwicket. The kiwis must have been distraught, and Chris was looking sick. I was just finding it a tremendous joke, one only surpassed if Chris Martin took to Shane Warne. I can't help, but have a sneaking respect for McGrath, who comes across as a hard competitor who is having a bit of fun at the end of his career. That and he went for a few in the first innings. The conga line of Australians went through the concrete underbelly of the stands, amplifying their celebrations, infectiously falling over themselves in enjoyment and surprise. A test win chance was slipping away from us, but I was still keen to see our batting line up fire. I came to see Richardson, Fleming, Styris and Astle defy the Aussies, play shots and score runs.
Day Four we missed. It wasn't our fault- the 475 bus picked us up as normal and prepared to run to the Gabba. For some reason on Sunday the run number changes in town. Inside we had no way of knowing, and it took us a mile away down to the Bulimba Ferry. We sat impatient, a little sick and frustrated by the lost radio, not knowing what was going on. We had to retrack our steps head back into town and get another bus.
We decided to chill, de-stress and have the $4 breakfast at Cafe Rics in the Valley, before going to the second session. Possibly something comparable to Deve or Verona, it was a good breakfast until Chris got a text. 3 for 34. 3 for sodding 34. Any way you calculate it three of our top stroke makers were out. I found out later that it was Glenn McGrath. This was cold steel in the belly, compared to the fun yesterday.
Running low on money, we didn't want to shell out around thirty dollars for that, so resolved to go into town and watch the final session in a pub. The charming Grosvenor, where someone I know used to work, was the scene of the most brutal dismembering of a batting line up ever seen. Even the old fellow watching the game was calling the McCullum dismissal out of line. Feeling sicker still, we went home, ate food and went out drinking. Thank providence for the ASB bank, friends' overdrafts and the Elephant and Wheelbarrow deals on pints.
It was a test played at times in a poor spirit, and so familiarly from the series against England the team had more than their share of opportunities. Rats. I saw Jake Oram make the world champions run out of options. Bring on Adelaide.