Six long weeks, for some a slow, dreary goods train ride to nowhere, but for others an exhilarating odyssey through the Scilla of hope, the Charybdis of despair. For New Zealand, plucky little New Zealand, they soared through the skies, daring to dream before plunging in a most Icarean manner into the pit of failure in the final.
Failure? Perhaps not. 12 months ago, few would have dared believe such heights were possible. Fewer even would have cared, for cricket remains very much a minority sport in this nation of 4 million. Yet come finals day it was a nation of 4 million connoisseurs, armchair pundits keen to expound cricketing sophistry with anyone who would listen. Such is the nature of Kiwi fans; the passion is ignited with a sniff of the victory rag. This morning my 8 year old son sits, slumped over his cornflakes, contemplating the awful reality of defeat. 6 weeks ago he could not have named a Black Cap, yet now McCullum is his hero, Boult his role model, and Guptill the stuff of legend for him.
Twice he accompanied me to matches, watching voraciously, questioning me keenly, absorbing the tense atmosphere like a sponge and this a lad who could barely sit through half a game of the Rugby World Cup. He wore his replica shirt with pride, he wore his heart on his sleeve and he cheered, oh how he cheered. And now he is inconsolable. I have told him that the Black Caps exited the tournament with their heads held high, that they gave it their best shot, and he nodded, and pretended with youthful sagacity to accept this, but I can see it in his eyes. Even at this tender age, it is the nature of the beast to know that in competition, winning matters. It is a most human instinct, that there be winners and losers, and that defeat is a thing of pain. You cannot deny human nature, for we are a competitive animal, and suppression of this most basic instinct will only exacerbate the condition.
It is a harsh lesson to learn at such a tender age, but one that will, I hope, stand him in good stead in later years. To give it your all, aye, that is most admirable, but for it to count for something, it must come to something. There are no prizes for second place. And on we go. Six months hence there is another world stage, a tournament for which NZ already has nigh on 4 millions fans, the Rugby World Cup. It would be idle to deny my Welsh heritage, and the hope in my heart that the boys could spring a surprise. But it will not be.
So instead, for the sake of my children, Kiwis to the core, ours is a household that will live and breathe the All Blacks, in so many ways the emblem of New Zealand. And it would be fitting perhaps if, on this occasion, those who forswear the fervent, nationalistic spirit we have seen these past 6 weeks, who sneer at success and who decry unity and would seek to render this country asunder, put aside their dark agendas, and came together to support one nation in its endeavours. For them I have an invitation; share the joy. For united we shall stand, yet divided we shall fall.