Rugby is my sport. Has been for years. I don’t miss an All Blacks game, I rarely miss a Super Rugby match, and I am forever playing virtual rugby.
Over the years I have played hockey, gone to every home game (and the odd away) for my favourite basketball team, I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to watch the All Whites, and I’ve been glued to the TV for the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
But then there was cricket.
While I understood that there was a lot of passion from supporters, I only ever watched matches when someone else was. It wasn’t something I would watch alone, and while I understood the rules, I didn’t get the excitement.
Until I was introduced to the Northern Knights.
I moved to Hamilton in November, and in my first week back on air there were a couple of interviews with Northern Knights players lined up. I knew enough to be able to prep for it, but I had to go and ask workmates a lot of questions so I could be confident of what I was talking about.
I have to say all of the players I met were great. All were friendly and down to earth, and each one of them made me want to know more about the game they played and loved.
I had been to only one cricket match before in my life that I can remember. It was a charity match with the Crusaders. Yes, they are a rugby team.
So my first official match was the SkyCity Northern Knights vs the Otago Volts at Seddon Park.
The Knights had beaten the Volts in Dunedin the week before. I had no idea how good the Volts were, so had assumed another win at home. While everyone else in our group made predictions on how many runs would be scored, I could only guess based on what was being said around me.
I said plenty of stupid things that night, and found myself understanding all those friends I have that don’t get rugby. I could see my favourite sport through their eyes for the first time.
The Knights didn’t win that night, but I was determined to watch more matches.
The next opportunity came in January.
The Northern Knights had had a couple of losses at the Mount, and were playing their first match at Seddon Park in 2014, this time against the Auckland Aces.
They’d played them only two days earlier in Auckland and won. I took my parents to the game, who know a lot more about cricket than I do, and who also bring chairs and snacks.
Dad explained things without even meaning to. I was starting to see the tactical side of the sport.
As mentioned, I knew the rules of cricket. But this time, I got it.
I also saw the cheeky side of cricket as the Knights made the most of the Ace’s mistakes.
(Side note: I learnt how important it is to be prepared for the weather. I was freezing. Blankets are a must.)
The Knights got the win and I was fully entertained. I loved the match. Flying flashing red wickets, high flying sixes – it was like I was no longer seeing cricket as an outsider, I had stepped through the looking glass into the world of T20.
I had to go to another match.
The Knights had a loss in Christchurch ahead of the Finals Weekend, already locked in at Seddon Park.
Technically they had the home advantage, without it actually being a home match as they’d finished third.
Friday saw the Northern Knights take on the Canterbury Wizards in the preliminary final. The team they had twice played and twice lost to. The winner would take on the Otago Volts the next night.
The losses didn’t curve my optimism for a win. They’d played the Wizards at the Mount, and in Christchurch, but this time they’d be at Seddon Park. Home.
I wore a hoodie, a big jacket, and took a blanket. It was not enough, the wind and cold was brutal. But the match was magnificent.
The Knights batted first and looked confident, setting the bar at 181 runs. 14 4s, 6 6s.
It looks like we had the win in the bag after the Wizards lost some quick wickets. But then came Brownlie, Fulton, and Hira.
In the end it came down to the final ball in the final over.
A 4 for the Wizards would tie the game, which I assumed would mean a few extra overs would need to be played.
A 6 would win it, and send the Wizards into the finals, and the Knights packing.
Scott Kuggeleijn bowled: bat and ball connected and as the red dot of the ball sailed into the air, the pink of the Knights swarmed to where it would fall. Quick to send it back to the wickets, the Knights won by 3 runs, and I was on my feet cheering.
The next day the Northern Knights took on the Otago Volts in the HRV Cup Final.
Bowling first, the Knights showed they were there to win, reducing the Volts to just 143 runs.
But as the match wore on it was looking like anyone’s game. Styris was finally caught, with the Knights needing 33 to win from 21 balls.
In came Scott Kuggeleijn.
“Well, Kuggeleijn was the hero last night with the ball, wasn’t he?” Jeff Wilson observed. “Can he be the hero tonight, with the bat?”
The commentators talked up Mitchell, who was looking ready to do damage.
But it was Kuggeleijn who hit 2 6s and 1 4, scoring 22 from 7.
They’re now off to the Champions League!
And as much as I was stoked for them, and extremely proud of the whole team, I realised that even if they’d lost that match, or the one before, they’d found a fan forever in me.
I am a Northern Knights supporter. I am a cricket fan.