New Zealand’s ‘summer of cricket’ has sizzled with colour, capacity crowds, community involvement and effervescent Kiwi sporting enthusiasm.
The images flashed around the world tell the story - ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 has been a driving force in New Zealand’s extraordinary summer of sporting activity that has gone well beyond the gates of the stadia and the games.
Four weeks on from the spectacular Christchurch opening of Cricket World Cup, summer here is officially over – March 1 signalled the start of autumn – but with four more matches scheduled on New Zealand soil, cricket fever is not about to let up just yet.
On Saturday (14 March) Zimbabwe takes on India at Eden Park in Auckland; then on Sunday (15 March), West Indies plays UAE at McLean Park, Napier. Wellington hosts a quarterfinal next Saturday (21 March), followed by a semifinal in Auckland on Tuesday (24 March).
The stakes are also going up for the TUI Catch a Million prize pool – a brewery-sponsored contest based on a one-handed stadium catch and the BLACKCAPS’ progress through the tournament. The obligatory orange t-shirts are all over the stadia during games and the four lucky catchers to date could each be in for a $250,000 prize if the home team takes the Cup.
In New Zealand, the cricket tournament – which is being jointly hosted with Australia – has played out in seven host centres across both islands from the four big cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin to the regional centres of Nelson, Napier and Hamilton.
Each stadium is close to its town centre so match days, with busy fan zones in most centres, the towns have been alive with atmosphere and colour. On the days when India, England and South Africa come to town, local ex-pat supporters showed up en masse to encourage their home teams.
Even week-day matches have pulled in big crowds and stadia, large and small, have experienced capacity crowds. In Wellington, Wellington Regional Stadium welcomed its eight millionth spectator through the turn-styles for the Sri Lanka v England CWC match (1 March) – making it New Zealand’s busiest stadium.
Trans-Tasman rivalry sold-out Eden Park for the New Zealand - Australia game on 28 February, and Auckland experienced its biggest weekend since 2011 and the Rugby World Cup. With 42,000 people inside the stadium, the city was also heaving with the arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race and the Chinese Lantern Festival celebrating Chinese New Year.
Auckland has a fan trail with live entertainment on game days and the family-friendly Britomart Fan Zone is themed as an urban village green of bean bags, outdoor pavilion seating, a giant screen with live match-play, and nearby bars and restaurants to feed the inner fan.
Wellington’s Civic Square has also turned out as a village green with games and face painting for the younger fans, long lunches, film shows by starlight, food stalls and, on game days, the start of a fan trail that makes its way to the stadium past live entertainment and tempting lines of food trucks.
More than the big cities, it is the regions that have stood out for their enthusiastic reception of the visiting sportsmen and emphatic embrace of the sporting spectacle.
Napier turned on an incredible reception for Afghanistan – a mayoral welcome, a Maori powhiri welcome and a big contingent of local Afghanis to cheer them on that included former interpreters who had worked with New Zealand’s defence forces in Afghanistan. They had been given tickets to the game by ICC World Cup Cricket management.
The preceding day the Hawke’s Bay region hosted a different kind of match in art deco style. Teams of locals and cricket legends, Jeff Thomson, Adam Hollioake and Martin Crowe, turned out on the pitch at the beautiful Clifton County Cricket Club – a social cricket ground on a local farm – for an afternoon of entertainment on and off the pitch, along with fine food and Hawke’s Bay wine.
Hamilton has just completed a massive week of events – two games at Seddon Park, and another outstanding cricket event at Hobbiton Movie Set for international media and business leaders from India with a couple of Kiwi cricket greats - Sir Richard Hadlee and Stepen Fleming on the hobbit pitch. India played Ireland on Tuesday, and New Zealand plays Bangladesh today (13 March).
On a faultless summer’s day, Seddon Park came alive with a sold-out stadium and a surging happy sea of green, blue and orange cricket fans. The national colours may have been somewhat mixed but there was no mistaking who was supporting who when Indian cricket super fan Sudhir Gautam - the man with the impeccable body paint and flag pole - turned up to wave the flag for his heroes.
ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in New Zealand – to come
Saturday, 14 March – India v Zimbabwe at Eden Park, Auckland
Sunday, 15 March – West Indies v UAE at McLean Park, Napier
Saturday, 21 March – Quarterfinal at Wellington Regional Stadium
Tuesday, 24 March – Semifinal at Eden Park, Auckland