Cricket: What if there were no Australia to aid our sporting development?

By Kris Shannon

Australian trio Usman Khawaja, David Warner and captain Steve Smith prepare to take to the field against the Black Caps. Photo/Getty.
Australian trio Usman Khawaja, David Warner and captain Steve Smith prepare to take to the field against the Black Caps. Photo/Getty.

The Black Caps' test series defeat against Australia was undoubtedly disappointing, but here's a more disconcerting hypothetical: what if there were no Australia?

While that idea may initially hold intrigue - no sheep jibes, no stolen generation, no Mel Gibson - the realities in a sporting sense are almost too painful to consider.

Since familiarity has certainly bred contempt, it's easy to overlook just how integral the nation of Australia is to our sporting development. We typically regard our neighbours across the ditch as arch adversaries but, in reality, they are generous benefactors.

Consider what professional sport in New Zealand would look like without big brother.

Rather, consider what professional rugby would look like and consider that most other codes would surely be consigned to the dark, old amateur days.

The revitalised National Provincial Championship would be a boon to the sporting scene; many punters would prefer that option to the convoluted new Super Rugby format.

But such rejuvenation would hardly extend across codes.

Instead of the Warriors' or the Breakers' Kiwi crop boosting those sports' flagging domestic competitions, the cream of that crop would choose to chase financial reward in offshore competitions.

And instead of this country's younger talent seeing those franchises as an obvious pathway into the professional game, many would simply pass up sport and seek sustainable employment.

National teams would certainly suffer, and a draining of the player pool would be only one factor for that decline. Because the debt we owe Australia is about much more than the mere existence of teams such as the Warriors.

At an international level, how high would the Black Caps be motivated to jump without their neighbours consistently raising the bar? Where would league and netball turn if one of their few opponents ceased to exist?

Catching and surpassing Australia is one of the main aims of many teams who wear the silver fern. Sure, being the world's best is the ultimate goal for any side, but that crown is only claimed if Australia is first conquered.

And, to be blunt, we hate them. Not genuine hate-with-the-heat-of-a-thousand-suns hate, but sport hate. Ask any kid with an interest in cricket whom he wants the Black Caps to beat more than any opponent and there will be one answer - the Australians.

The antipathy drummed into us from an early age never abates - a reminder of that fact was provided by the way Kiwi crowds may or may not have acted towards Dave Warner and Company over the past month.

Athletes will indulge in a post-match beer ritual with their rivals from across the Ditch but, deep in their soul, they'll never completely forget the childish loathing the sight of canary yellow conjures. And, if they do, they need only listen to the "Warner's a wanker" chants raining down from the stands.

Those supporters may love a pantomime villain but their sporting lives would be significantly diminished had the United Kingdom opted against sending their convicts to the barren wasteland at the bottom of the world.

How would a league fan cope without the NRL? Or a football fan without the A-League?

Just last weekend, your humble correspondent arrived home from work at 11.30pm on a Saturday and, with no expectations, proceeded to watch Perth and Brisbane play out a 6-3 thriller.

If that game were absent from the schedule, a late-night viewer would have no choice but to make a vain attempt at unlocking the riddle that is Pro Kabaddi.

So next time you want to call Warner a wanker, please do so, just maybe add a quiet: "But thank you for being you."

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