It started with a little fellow in an oversized hat scratching a rough crease into the dirt, expecting to face another dibbly dobbly delivery from one of his friends. The large bunch of boys had been happily playing cricket amongst themselves, so much so they’d barely noticed a superstar of world cricket had suddenly turned up at their place.
The little fellow looked up, and after a few confused seconds, it dawned on him that instead of one of his little mates, he was about the face a ball from Daniel Vettori. Then, he literally exploded with excitement. Literally. It was exactly like the demise of the Death Star at the end of Star Wars. Boom.
Alright, alright, not literally, but it was a beautiful moment, and the Campbell Live vs BlackCaps backyard cricket match promised to be a beautiful evening… Well, except for the indecently short stubbies on Tristram Clayton, and the dangerously loose ones on Dan Parker.
We’d chosen a typically Kiwi backyard to host this momentous occasion. There was a swing, a playhouse, a tree where mid-on would normally stand. There was also a well-worn pitch, evidence of just how cricket-mad the household was.
With a bit of spare time before the game started, we were able to do some planning for the show, and the BlackCaps got to meet some of their awe-struck fans. It was seriously charming to watch – this wide-eyed parade of little boys waiting to face a ball from Grant Elliott, or lining up to take a catch from Martin Guptill. Their eyes almost popped out of their heads when Jesse Ryder showed up to complete the team.
There was even better to come for the two older boys who lived there- they’d be joining the BlackCaps team. Sadly for them, their opposition would be a rag-tag Campbell Live outfit. It was bound to be a mismatch of epic proportions, but really, the result of the game didn’t really matter. It was the purpose of the game that was truly important.
Five-year-old Angus Little has an inoperable brainstem tumour – one so rare it occurs in less than 1 percent of all cases. The match would help raise money for his possible treatment in the United States, and the BlackCaps had got right in behind Angus. If it meant giving the CLive team a hiding, well, that’s what they were prepared to do.
Ryder, Guptill, McCullum, Vettori, another McCullum, Elliott... this was a team stacked with some serious talent, while we were stacked with... umm... mindless enthusiasm. Oh, and cunning.
Backyard cricket is a confusing game at the best of times, full of arguments about scoring shots and bizarre rules over fielding positions and disagreements over whether that was out or not. Creating confusion and distraction was probably our only chance of making a match of it, so we’d be taking full advantage. And by cheating. We’d probably cheat.
Angus and his dad David joined the Campbell Live ruffians for the game, and were as pleased as the rest of us when we won the toss, guaranteeing at least one victory for the evening.
The game was on.
John Campbell and Rebecca Wright started confidently, slamming balls to the boundaries and darting between the wickets, before John got carried away interviewing Dan Vettori and got run out but then claimed he was interviewing and so we threw in Tristram and somehow managed to accumulate more runs than we deserved without losing any wickets but then we lost one anyway. It was all very confusing, but as mentioned, we made it work to our advantage.
Oh, and again, we probably cheated.
Players came and went. Kate King made her way to the crease and immediately began smashing boundaries everywhere. Off the legs to the playhouse; a straight drive to BBQ corner; a neat little hook into a scratchy bush. Dan Parker looked magnificent, until he shamefully got out for a duck. The spectating kids all yelled approvingly.
Oh no, I was up. The last time I’d played cricket I had been nicked out, first ball of the match, so confidence wasn’t high. But with Angus going magnificently at the other end we managed to hold out and snaffle a few more runs before our team was called in and the BlackCaps took their turn at bat.
Somehow, incredibly, improbably, the Campbell Live team scratched together 47 runs for the loss of 5 wickets. We were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, confident, even... until a man with an ODI high score of 166 strode out, bat-in-hand.
Boom. Brendon McCullum managed just one scoring shot – but it was a thumping six and out off the house. Then one of his teammates did the same, right over the fence. And another. And another – Guptill went OVER the house! A kamikaze strategy, no doubt, but it was working! They were losing wickets, but they were also reeling in our total. Then the new batsmen, backyard winners Samson and Louie, changed tactic and started scampering up and down the pitch like a couple of sugared-up whippets. Team CLive was getting run ragged.
Our onlookers were being suitably entertained. The children cheered, the adults applauded, and Producer Pip barked at us to show a bit more energy in the field. Tom McCrae (b/b 8/30) was soon throwing down fireball after fireball, while the rest of us were darting about in the field like Border Collies. In a moment of madness I decided that tackling batters between the wickets wasn’t enough, so tackling the wickets would be a better option. It wasn’t, but it looked spectacular.
We threw ourselves at our competition. Catches were taken, knees were skinned, jandals were broken… but ultimately, our efforts were in vain. The BlackCaps and their youthful ring-ins easily surpassed our total.
It was hardly surprising that we’d been given a spanking, but to be honest, it didn’t matter. The Beige Brigade had done an excellent job of keeping score, but again, no-one was counting. Because amongst our team of beige-tinted losers was a little face beaming with joy – wee Angus, who was so indescribably happy at having had the chance to play with his heroes.
Game over, the backyard once more flooded with little boys. Cold drinks were passed around, sausages were wrapped in white bread with tomato sauce...and the happy sounds of laughter, and bat on ball, and excited cries echoed into the evening sky.
That was our Waitangi Day. A celebration of community, and friendship, and kindness.
It was a beautiful day, with a beautiful result.
If you’d like to help Angus, you can. www.Anguslittle.com