AUCKLAND: Thousands of fans packed Eden Park on Saturday for the World Cup clash between four-time champions Australia and New Zealand, insisting they were witnessing “the final before the final.”
The match promised to be a blockbuster as both teams vied for top position in Pool A to earn the benefit of playing relatively weaker opposition from Pool B in the quarter-finals.
The festive mood was cranked up by Australia’s batting collapse as they were dismissed for just 151 in 32.2 overs.
Joseph Baker, who has come from Wanake in Queenstown in the South Island, was hoping New Zealand pull off the win and go on to win a first World Cup.
“Look, it will be worth the trip if New Zealand go on and win the World Cup,” said Baker, who works as a hotel chef. “I have taken two days off to watch this big game.”
Baker said he was fed up of having seen Australia win four World Cups.
“They have won it four times so it’s New Zealand’s turn,” said Baker.
David Austen is in Auckland from Sunshine, Australia.
“It’s Australia’s game,” said Austen before the match started.
“I am happy to come to New Zealand after a long time and the atmosphere is electrifying,” said Austen who works for a helicopter company.
“My wife would have been equally enthusiastic had she been here. She’s from New Zealand and we married during the 1992 World Cup which was also hosted by these two countries,” said Austen, whose wife Bev is away in Washington on a work visit.
Luke Johnson and his wife Naini have come from Napier, but know little about cricket.
“We are excited to be at a packed Eden Park,” said Luke. “We are rugby fans and know little about cricket but it’s worth a visit as the fans look happy and passionate.”
Martin Simon himself plays cricket in a Wellington college and is in Auckland after saving up to pay for the trip.
“I saved my pocket money since November to buy the tickets for this game and hopefully for the semis, and I want Australia to be thrashed,” said Simon.
But there were some neutral fans as well, like Vineet Sharma.
“It’s the biggest game of the World Cup,” said Sharma, who is from Delhi but based in Auckland. “We didn’t get tickets for the final so it’s like a final for us.
“We are waiting for Pakistan and then India to come to Auckland as I want to have a picture with Mohammad Irfan,” said Sharma, of the Pakistan paceman who is the tallest ever cricketer at 7feet one inch.
Pakistan play South Africa at Eden Park on March 7 while India play Zimbabwe a week later.
Auckland will also host one of the semi-finals on March 24.