Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Cricket Worship and The Ethics of A Night Out In the Big City

As this mad international summer/winter comes to a close I can't stop learning new things about this place, like a kid who won't go inside when his mom calls for dinner, just keeps turning over rocks looking for bugs. One of the more intersting things I've noticed recently is the way Kiwis treat thier sports stars.

Downtown Auckland after 10 lights up with nightclubs and corner-pubs pumping music and throwing people all over town. Hanging out in one such establishment with the boys one night, I couldn't help but notice a couple of big 6 foot plus dudes who looked very familiar. Are those guys in a movie I saw somewhere? Maybe in some band of unusually tall people? Maybe on the TV... wait... thats IT! Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills were here, enjoying thier Friday night and a few frosty beverages.

For an explanationof why this is cool I'll need to go back a few months to where I mentioned that Cricket is a very popular sport here. I didn't like it at first, mainly because I didn't understand it. It takes some watching, but once you get to the rules it's pretty cool. Beats the snot out of baseball and basketball with an extra-large wicket. ANYWAY. The Black Caps are NewZealand's national team. The best of the best, and everybody knows them. These guys played a charity match against the World 11 (can you guess it?!? that's RIGHT! Best 11 in the world, ding ding!) and completely smashed them. It was all over the news, very big stuff, very exciting to watch. I watched all three games, all three hours with Breezy's brother Saul, cheering for the hometeam like a crazyperson. Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills are two of the star bowlers (like pitchers in a baseball game) who played a huge part in winning the series. This is like if Kobe Bryant and Nolan Ryan were hanging out in the local pub in the States. They'd get mobbed.

People watch these guys all summer, buy jerseys with thier names on them, pretend to be them in pickup matches... Vettori in particular is a recognizable guy with his trademark curly frosted hair and snazzy glasses. Mills is easy to pick out because he's huge and a little neanderthal-ish. Everyone knows who they are, but no one mobs them. They're allowed to just be people. Granted a couple girls run up and take pictures (mostly with Vettori, he seems to be a bit of a hearthrob), one guy went for an autographed napkin, but there wasn't the type of star worship you might see in America where someone suddenly yells "HEY, THAT'S BENICIO DEL TORO!!" and everone pounces.

Maybe they just don't realize... Hmm... I leaned over to a couple of people who were minding thier own business and said "hey, isn't that.."
"Oh.. cool."
"So do you watch cricket then?"
"Yeah, man. Mills is a killer, did you see how in the World 11 match how he..."

Not three days later, riding down the road with Walker, we see a couple runners jogging through downtown Newmarket past crowds of people.
"You know who that was?" he asks as we ride past.
"Nope, Hamish Carter."
That's right. Hamish Carter, Olympic gold medallist in the triathlon, an absolute hero around here, a guy people see literally every day on TV commercials and print ads, can run in peace through town like he's just another guy. Once again, I find it hard to believe that locals don't recognize him when Walker can pick him out of a group while casually glancing in his direction at 20 mph.

I dig this. This is cool. Star worship gets on my nerves and tends to turn famous people into unappreciative hermits, so seing a place where they are treated like human beings instead of circus freaks is kind of comforting. Still. I really wanted to ask Vettori, "So, what's a wicket again?"

But that would be uncool. I don't want to be uncool. Do you? DT

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