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The Cricket World Cup means friends, family, community and a sense of belonging
Zoë George is a senior sports journalist and is one of 100 high profile New Zealand Cricket World Cup champions.
OPINION: The Cricket World Cup is here and for me, it epitomises what this beautiful sport is all about.
It’s not necessarily about on-pitch results. It’s about nostalgia, good memories, family, friends, community and a sense of belonging.
I was born into cricket. Family legend has it I was christened by Martin Crowe, who, while at a club training with dad in the mid-’80s, accidently smashed a six into my pram when I was six months old. It missed my head by mere centimeters. My mum had kittens.
It was a fitting introduction to the game that would shape many of our lives, mine included.
Like many Kiwi kids I grew up playing backyard cricket; at my grandparents’ farm with the cousins or in the cul-de-sac outside my childhood home.
I wasn’t a naturally gifted player – with my dibbly-Dobly but handy left-armers and a batting style reminiscent of Chris Martin – but it wasn’t about that. It was about making connections, collecting memories and forming life-long friendships.
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Although, I do remember taking my very first wicket at Saturday cricket while in a boys’ team. I cleaned bowled him, and he refused to walk because there was no way he could be out to a girl. Bless.
I’ve lost count how many summers I’ve spent at the Basin Reserve – my second home – usually on the embankment under a pohutukawa cheering on the White Ferns, Blaze and Black Caps.
In my early teenage years I’d autograph hunt with my cricketing best friend, and got to see some of the most influential players in the game.
Those stories live on and are often recounted. Of my friend snubbing Mark Waugh when he asked what other cricketers were on her signature bat – everyone from Hansie Cronje to Shane Warne.
Of Brett Lee giving Adam Gilchrist throw downs, one of which connected with my ribs. Lee checked if I was OK and rubbed my arm (it was a highlight of my teenage years!).
Of hours upon hours queuing for the toilet – which led to my fascination with, subsequent campaign for and Tedx talk about better bogs at the Basin. We finally got them this week.
I would attend as many domestic games as possible with my dad, who was a first class umpire. I got my umpiring and coaching certificates and coached junior teams.
I watched the 2000 World Cup final between the White Ferns and Australia with my Australian mum and have walked out on the hallowed Sydney Cricket Ground turf, a special place for me.
It was the sport that spurred me into the media at 16 – it took another 18 years to become a fully fledged sports journalist, after years of “no”.
I worked in cricket too. First for NZ Cricket alongside the White Ferns and Black Caps, then with the Japan men’s and women’s teams (yes, they do play cricket!). It took me to places like Botswana, Vanuatu, Samoa, Singapore and Bangladesh – I’m so thrilled the latter are here in their very first World Cup.
It’s a sport that crosses cultural, generational and country divides. It’s a universal language that brings us together.
As I wrote this, I was in the press box, high up in the RA Vance Stand, watching some of the best cricketers in the world. There was joy in sitting there watching history being made. Regardless of the score, there is something special about saying “I was there”.
I talked with other women who were there too, from the scorer who got her start by scoring her son’s school games, to the World Cup chief executive Andrea Nelson, who beamed with joy every time we chatted. Her team di lei has moved heaven and earth during a global pandemic to make this happen.
Then there are the mums and kids on the sideline, with autograph bats and phones at the ready for the social-distancing selfies. I spotted a girls’ team at the Basin on Tuesday, and it took me right back to when I was their age, standing in the same spot.
They are our future White Ferns, administrators, scorers, umpires, CEOs, and sports journalists. There are the friendships, the memories, the community and the belonging.
The Cricket World Cup is part of their story, and it’s part of yours too. That’s a winning result.