By Michelle Langstone*
Opinion - Cricket. People either scoff at it and look bemused when you say you love it, or light up with frenetic pleasure because they've encountered another fan. It's a game you're either into or you just don't care.
I was 13 when mum sat me down and explained the game to me. She'd had brothers who repped in cricket, she knew the game like the back of her hand, and she passed on the love like a baton.
It's a metaphor for life, cricket - long, other times cut brutally short, measured by moments of utter brilliance and triumph, occasionally dull, punctuated by crushing blows, and then periods of rebuilding, and lessons learnt.
It was 1992, a good year to fall in love.
The NZ cricket team was resplendent with brilliant players - there was Martin Crowe being extraordinary at every turn, there was Mark Greatbatch terrifying and enthralling everyone with his "whack it like mad or get out very quickly" approach to the World Cup.
Chris Cairns was cocky and effortless, Ken Rutherford, Chris Harris, Gavin Larsen... the hits just kept on coming.
I fell in love that summer, and while my love has been tested over bleak times, some of which admittedly stretched for years, it has never faded.
THIS IS WORSE THAN THE TIME I GOT A ROOT CANAL DONE AND THEN WENT TO THE EASTER SHOW AND ON THE GRAVITRON AND THE PRESSURE PUSHED BACTERIA INTO MY JAW AND MY FACE PUFFED UP LIKE A HUGE PALE PINK BALLOON. THIS IS WORSE THAN THAT TIME. #NZvIND— Michelle Langstone (@mifflangstone) January 26, 2019
Yeah, we've hit some slumps. There was about a decade where cricket caused me physical pain, where it seemed we couldn't catch a break.
But that's part of the joy of the game; your love is tested, it is crushed under spiked shoes and mulched into the pitch alongside your dreams, and yet it rises again. Love and possibility are two tenets that keep cricket alive.
The third is Mike Hesson, and there is not enough space on a page to laud his brilliance as a coach.
I cried when Mike Hesson announced his retirement.
I cried all down my shirt because, to me, he had resurrected our team from the ashes, and his guidance made the 2015 World Cup one of the greatest sporting events I've ever seen.
I've got a group of friends who still get misty-eyed when someone brings up that World Cup.
"McCullum, oh GOD" they intone, and "When McCullum got out, I just felt my heart fall through the floor" and we remember that game, and the triumph that led before the fall; that season of cricket when everything felt possible, and our players soared like a collective phoenix.
In McCullum we had one of the greatest captains we've ever had, and an opening batsman you could tether your courage to.
I've never felt so proud of a loss as I did in defeat to Australia in that final. It was heroic and bittersweet, at it came at the end of a World Cup that had delighted us.
I got in trouble during those games - I yelled so much during the semi-final against South Africa that there were complaints from around the area where I was filming a tv show.
I was disturbing the peace of a leafy suburb late at night.
I got told off for having earbuds in and listening to the commentary when I was meant to be standing by for a take.
I missed 'action' because I was crouched in the back of my character's ambulance, rocking back and forth and praying outright to the Gods of cricket for assistance.
Mum told me off for yelling and swearing and jumping on the couch. That felt like a betrayal, but in retrospect she was very invested in the game, and anxious, and I was making it worse.
I'll never forget the camera cutting away to Martin Crowe during one of those games.
He'd chosen to sit amongst the crowd, rather than be cosseted in the fancy stands.
He was with the people, and the smile on his face could have lit up the world. He was battling cancer at that time, and would pass away the following year, but he'd made it to sit in those bleachers and take in another beautiful game.
It's 2019 and we have new coach, Gary Stead, and an excellent bowling coach in Shane Jurgensen, and we have Kane Williamson leading our team with quiet determination and a batting technique that is frankly inspirational.
Yeah, we're being thumped by India right now, and yeah, it hurts like hell.
It's hard not to feel a bit daunted when you watch a team storming that field like a beautiful and terrifying herd of gazelles, deftly destroying your hopes, and looking deeply attractive while they do it.
OH MY GOD JUST LET YOURSELF IMAGINE THAT TODAY IS A GUPPY TRIUMPH! I AM HERE FOR IT AND ALSO GIVE ME A LEGENDARY PARTNERSHIP WITH KANE NOT TO BE DEMANDING BUT COME ON! #NZvIND— Michelle Langstone (@mifflangstone) January 28, 2019
But in these games, you can feel the testing and combining that will determine our team for the World Cup this year.
We have some terrific players - Trent Boult out there, perennially 17 and gangly with fits of bowling brilliance, stalwart Ross Taylor, Williamson of course, and relative newcomers like Ferguson and Sodhi, who are making their case for selection.
There'll be highs and lows, you can count on it. But that's where you come alive as a cricket fan: in the tension between possibilities.
* Michelle Langstone has written for North and South, the Listener, Newsroom and Pantograph Punch. She has appeared as an actor in 800 Words and The Almighty Johnsons, amongst others.