I don’t remember the exact moment I fell in love with cricket, even though I know who it was who courted me (and if you’ve been around these parts long enough, you know who it was too).
What I do remember, however, is the moment I realised cricket could be a real thing for me.
23 December 2000. Rebecca Rolls gloved a catch off Clare Nicholson’s bowling, and the White Ferns had won the Cricket World Cup.
It sparked a realisation in me that 1) the New Zealand women’s cricket team could beat the best in the world, 2) wicketkeepers were awesome matchwinners, and 3) “that could be me.” I was a young wicketkeeper batsman, crazy about the game, not a care in the world what I did for a living so long as it let me play the game I loved.
And now, 22 years later, I saw that flame spark in a group of kids standing on the hallowed turf of a 20% full Eden Park. I saw kids who loved the game and playing with their friends look around and think “Wow, how cool is this?”
Spoiler alert. I didn’t become a professional cricketer, but without intending to put too fine a point on it, cricket raised me, in a way. It played such a substantial part in my formative years, contributing to me seeing the world, growing up around brilliant players and more importantly, wonderful humans. I became a missionary of cricket, trying to recruit anyone I could to join a team or watch a game, because I had had the most incredible experiences and wanted to spread the word.
I signed up to be a volunteer at the Cricket World Cup because of the impact that tournament had on me in 2000. I wanted to pay forward the joy I’ve had from being involved in the game – from meeting my best friend at aged 11 in junior girls cricket to singing the national anthem beside her at an age group international competition in South Africa; from the highs of following the Black Caps to every game in the 2015 World Cup to the cocktail of relief, pride and elation following the World Test Championship all-nighter; from having a poster of Emily Drumm on my wall when I was in intermediate school to playing alongside her when I was at high school. For the road trips, the tournaments, the prizegivings and most of all, the people – those I’ve played alongside to those I now sit alongside on grass embankments over summer.
By volunteering, there would be the chance to help kids enjoy cricket, enable them to have a fun and unforgettable experience, and to see what’s possible for them.
And boy, did it fill my cup.
Under my charge was a group of a dozen kids, aged from 7-13ish, tasked with the very important job of standing on the field during the anthem ceremony. They were all excited to standing on “the actual” Eden Park turf, awed by its size from the middle of the field. They nailed their big moment. They were the best diagonal line you’ve ever seen, removing their caps and respecting the anthems, and walking off waving to their parents, proudly filming in the stands. As I gave them each a celebratory high five, the smiles and palpable buzz was just awesome. Core memory stuff for them right there.
They rushed off, desperate to see video their parents had taken, or whanau had sent through recorded off the broadcast at home, their faces beaming. They raced through the bowels of Eden Park back to their seats because they didn’t want to miss a ball. The kids waved their 4/6 signs for both teams, cheered wickets and joined in appeals, and left with smiles a mile wide.
Two conversations will stay with me. The first, two of the younger boys, their too-long pants rolled up so they wouldn’t trip on them, arguing over whether it was better for New Zealand’s chances if Australia or India won that day. They then turned to their chaperoning fathers to ask if Mithali Raj or Ellyse Perry was the better player. The dads shared their thoughts based on having watched ‘most of’ the games in the tournament so far, adding “but Sophie Devine is pretty good too.”
The second had me fighting back nostalgia. Two tweenaged girls, from the Ellerslie club, leaders of the tallest-to-shortest line. As we waited in the wings to head out on to the park, they were doing their best to keep a lid on their growing excitement. They were like purple jack-in-the-boxes, coiled with anticipation. They were full of questions, all asked in the space of thirty seconds, as tweenaged girls do. “Are we going to get to see the players?” “OMG it’s Mithali Raj! Are they going to be standing right next to us?!” “Is that the real trophy?”
As we walked off, those two jumped joyously together, one saying “I totally pretended it was us that was playing! That was like a dream come true!”
The other replied “One day, it will be.”
Cue my tears.
That is the legacy of the Cricket World Cup.
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