I loved the Black Caps before they were the Black Caps. For my 10th birthday, in 1956, I was asked what I would like as a present ꟷ which was to see a day of the test against the West Indies at Eden Park. Never mind that we were 3-0 down in the series, thrashed in all three. It was a strange wish, defeat nearly certain, but my parents met it. I am grateful still.
So after school on Friday, March 9, Dad and I set off from Te Pahu, deep in the Waikato, in our tiny, uncomfortable Anglia for my grandparents' place at the foot of One Tree Hill.
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Next morning, we got to Eden Park in time for the arrival of the West Indies' team bus. "They all look the same," I blurted loudly, probably to Dad's embarrassment, as they alighted. Only the captain, Denis Atkinson, was white. In those colonial days, black men were not deemed fit to lead the West Indies.
On the field, I briefly saw captain John Reid bat before he slipped and hit his wicket. New Zealand made 255, better than most of our totals but surely not enough to overcome the imperious batting of Everton Weekes of the fabulous, fabled "three Ws". But Weekes made only 5, caught behind after a glance for four that I recall still. His dismissal was a joyful moment. Nowadays I would want to savour such a great batsman for longer.
New Zealand went on to a first test win after 26 years of defeats, mostly heavy. Before that we'd lost 22, won none. My joy was unconfined and my allegiance fixed for good. I followed the team thereafter, few though the rewards were. There were no more wins during the 1950s, and only five during the sixties and three during the 1970s. My love was tested, but it never waned.
Then came genuine success. Briefly during the 1980s New Zealand might have been the second-best test team behind the incomparable West Indies. We had the peerless Richard Hadlee, the brilliant Martin Crowe and several highly competent others. Over the decade, 16 tests were won and only 12 lost. Our cricketing heads could be held high.
By now I was living in Australia, but my sporting heart was still with the Black Caps (and, naturally, the All Blacks). You can take the boy out of NZ, but you can't take NZ out of the boy. Australian friends ribbed me about my allegiance, but I cared not. They understood nothing. They didn't even understand that migration from NZ to Oz raised the average IQ on both sides of the Tasman.
Victories flowed periodically. Since 1980 there have been four series wins over England and five over India, and great victories over Australia at the Gabba in 1985 (Hadlee 15 wickets, Crowe 188) and at Hobart in 2011. And there was the fabulous four-run triumph in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan last year, a stunning collapse engineered to win a test that had seemed utterly lost. A series was won in an environment in which few visitors have succeeded.
And last week we beat England by an innings at Mount Maunganui. A skilled, determined team delivered an irresistible performance. Mighty England was undone.
Now, after Hamilton, we take on Australia, in Australia, and then India at home. These are Everests: we have won only two tests on West Island in nearly half a century of trying, and four years ago we lost 4-0 in six encounters, home and away. And India is huge these days, close to unbeatable though with a chink in their armour away from home.
This expatriate Kiwi hopes for three test series victories in 2019-20, a tall order. C'mon the Black Caps.
• Chas Keys is an Auckland University graduate, a former academic, a writer on various themes and a dual citizen of New Zealand and Australia. He has never forgotten his roots.