Players from the Kensington Cricket Club have taken the domestic competition by storm.
Photo / Supplied
By Imran Ali
What started as fun between Covid lockdowns in Whangārei unearthed cricketing talent Northland XI selectors may find impossible to ignore.
The swingers and blasters, mostly from Asia working and residing in Whangārei,
endured a torrid time worrying about their whanau back home with the number of deaths from Covid in their country of birth and decided to take up cricket to freshen up their mood.
A brainchild of the Northland Indian Association, the motley crew were registered as the Kensington Cricket Club in 2020 and bagged a few gongs in their first year in the reserve grade in 2021.
Raj Kaler was named bowler and player of the year while Anish Varghese was judged batsman of the year.
Northland Cricket Association gave the club the green light to compete in the premier grade this year.
“What started out as fun has now become a roller coaster journey where players now want to represent Northland,” Northland Indian Association (NIA) board member Ralph Correa said.
Coping with the Covid lockdowns had especially been difficult for the ethnic population in Whangarei, Correa said, and people were getting a bit edgy and constantly thinking about their loved ones back home as the death toll rose in Asia, particularly in India.
“We went back to basics and we sat down and thought ‘what is it that we could do or what do people do to bring joy in their life? and we realised that people are sitting at that high level which is an elder state of mind and we wanted to bring them back to their child state of mind.
“That’s where the happiness is and sport is the medium we thought would be the best so when things were opening up and people could meet, we called some of the young boys and said ‘would you like to play cricket and have fun?’ It just grew.”
He then spoke to NCA about registering a team that comprised Pacific Islanders, Asians, and even New Zealand-born players.
Correa said other cricket clubs’ argument was Kensington Cricket Club would take players away that were embedded in their clubs.
His challenge was to bring together 20 players who had never played cricket but use at least one from each of the existing clubs to better understand the rules of the game.
“We’ve got from doctors right down to pizza delivery boys in the team. A very senior GP came and enrolled and also people that have worked in the Middle East and learnt the sport out there. Different people, but cricket brought them together.
“At the end of last season, we had 20 players and because of all the restrictions that other clubs had put on us, we could only play some of the senior players and they were kind enough to give the youngsters an opportunity to grow.”
Correa said the new club was faced with the conundrum of having too many players for one team so it has had to make some of them sit. NIA then went back to Northland Cricket with a proposal to put in a premier team.
“The whole idea was not to limit ourselves to any ethnicity or race. The camaraderie has created an opportunity for the game of cricket to grow. We are confident that from our team, if not by the end of this season, we’ll have Northland representative players picked up from our team,” Correa said.
He said NCA had been really supportive of NIA’s push to have two teams in the competition.
After a challenging first season with virtually no funding to pay for their uniform and training gear, the new club managed to secure money this year through applications for lotteries grants and other foundations.
Despite cricket helping the multiethnic community cope with a myriad of difficulties in life, Correa said issues such as mental health and domestic violence still came to the fore.
“We’re finding solutions by taking it back to our villages. What will they do in a village where there’s less resources, what was it that brought people around? It was sports and music. Cricket has helped a lot.
“In fact, it has helped in a great way. Now that that has been a success, we’re looking at volleyball and other sports to get kids and women and everyone involved,” he said.
NCA operations manager Neil Parlane said anyone who has driven past Kensington Park in the last four to five years would have seen groups of people playing what seemed to be a very serious form of twilight cricket.
He said when NCA was first contacted about the possibility of Kensington Cricket Club being formed, it was excited.
“Not only was it the formation of a new club at a time when the world didn’t really know what was happening due to the pandemic but the fact that it was going to be made up mostly of members of the Indian community brought an added excitement.
“Cricket, like almost all sports, is doing its best to keep its existing players in the game as well as enticing new players to the sport. KCC joining our competitions has made the game of cricket more accessible to a large and ever-growing community.
“Add to this some on-field success with their Premier team getting their first-ever win over Duracrete City CC and then backing it up with a win over current club powerhouse and Lion Red Cup Champions The Butter Factory Kamo CC, this new club has been an exciting addition to the Northland club cricket scene,” Parlane said.