Cricketers creating pathways for future rangatahi

By James Perry

(l-r) Solomon Nash, Gisele Naidu (Pasifika Schools), Ella Gibson and Lachie Bailey (Māori Schools) received their playing caps on Monday evening. Photo / NZCricket via Photosport

The future stars of Māori cricket are happy to be wearing their hearts on their sleeves as they represent their iwi and whānau.

The Māori schools boys and girls sides are playing the Pasifika schools sides this week in Auckland in a series of T20 matches.

The Rangatahi Cricket Festival got underway on Monday night with the four teams welcomed on to Ōrākei Marae, and players received their caps.

The players' shirts are emblazoned with their name on the back, their iwi on one sleeve and their school on the other. Boys' captain Lachie Bailey (Ngāti Kuia) says it feels great to be able to recognise all the support they have received in their pursuit of cricket.

"They've all helped us, whether in cricket or life. It's super important to represent them well."

It's a sentiment echoed by his female counterpart, Ella Gibson (Tūhoe, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Ngāti Porou). She says the opportunity to learn from White Ferns legend and former Māori schools girls' coach Maia Lewis is also helping Māori players navigate their way through a sport that is often perceived as being elite and, by extension, Pākehā.

Raising the profile

"She helped me a lot through cricket, and she knows how different Māori people might feel in that cricket environment. She brought us all together along with Andrew [Tara, NZ Cricket kaupapa Māori, diversity and inclusion lead] to overcome that. That is something to idolise."

The schoolboys' team was first established in 2018, the schoolgirls' team the following year. Gibson and teammate Anika Todd (Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara), who have both been a part of the team since the beginning, say it's an honour to be involved in this week's series helping to promote Māori cricket but also helping to raise the profile of the sport in the Pasifika community.

"It was cool to be able to experience their first time because I was in their shoes once. We all felt like a minority in a more colonised sport. But to be able to see everyone out there is like an amazing feeling. There are a lot of nerves there but once you get on, it's just cricket, it's the same thing except you get to speak your reo or you feel more included in the kaupapa because it's all about you."

Former Black Caps captain Luteru Ross Taylor was on hand to watch the matches in Auckland.

Taylor's view

He says he never dreamed it could be possible to one day see a Pasifika schools cricket team in Aotearoa and, while it has come to fruition, he says it has to be the beginning of something bigger.

"The talent that we see on show just shows what we will see in the years to come. Not only the Pacific and Māori communities can be proud but also the New Zealand team will benefit and I guess society in general."

Pasifika coach Gary Wood has advocated for Pasifika cricket for many years. He says he is "beyond 100 per cent excited" to see the growth of the game among the Pasifika community growing to the point of having representative schools teams and is hopeful it will be the start of changing mindsets amongst the cricketing public. He believes the key to building the game among Pasifika is to make inroads into the entire community.

"You wouldn't see this many people at the average premium club game on a Saturday. The difference with Pasifika support is you get the whole community. You're not engaging with one or two players, you're engaging with everyone."

Recognising whakapapa

Former Netherlands international, Kerry Tomlinson, (Te Whānau a Apanui and Ngāti Porou) is one of the assistant coaches of the Māori Schoolgirls team. She was also a member of the first Māori Women's cricket team in 2015 who played against the Cook Islands. She is buoyed by the support New Zealand Cricket is providing to the growth and development of the sport amongst the Māori and Pasifika communities.

"I think it's been untapped. I think you'll see more Māori players, because we've always been here - it's just we haven't been acknowledged. With the backing of New Zealand Cricket, that's going to become more apparent, and people are going to start to recognise, 'hey, I'm actually associated to this iwi and have those connections here'. So yeah, to have the sporting body of New Zealand cricketers, is massive, massive for us."

Todd, who despite being still only 16 is a veteran of the Māori side, says the added benefit of having a Māori cricket programme is the opportunity to engage with people from other iwi they may never had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

"It's really cool to find out who has whakapapa, and I'm playing around them all the time and I wouldn't know unless this tournament existed."