More than just a game

Cricket was never on Dani Darke’s agenda, until her daughter took up the game.

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Back in 2016, New Zealand cricket did some research to try to work out why only 10% of those engaged with cricket were females. One thing they worked out quickly was that at a governance level very few of the decision-makers were women.

NZ Cricket ran some workshops to try to understand what was important to young girls when getting involved and sticking with a sport.

The overwhelming answer was having fun with friends. So from this, NZ Cricket developed a dedicated programme to encourage girls into the sport. The aim was to change girls’ and their parents’ minds about the game. And I have to say that my mind was one that needed changing. If one of our daughters had come to us and asked to play Saturday cricket, the answer would have been “no way, our weekends are too precious!”

Bearing in mind that we live about two hours away from where games are held, it would’ve made for a very long day. But once Eva, our eldest daughter, got to boarding school two years ago, she jumped on the cricket team that played on a weeknight, just for something to do. She ended up having two seasons playing in the Yeah! Girls cricket programme – a short format game, plus skills sessions designed to engage girls and show them what cricket is all about.

This year the girls were offered an opportunity to join Hamilton’s Seddon Cricket Club and send a girls’ team down to Hawke’s Bay to play in a tournament at the annual Hawke’s Bay cricket camps.

So Anthony and I headed down to Hastings in support, and for me it was my second time watching a full game. I’d always felt a bit sorry for parents whose kids were into cricket and thought they were just putting on a brave face when they said they enjoyed watching. Well, I surprised myself as I couldn’t take my eyes off the game, and I can totally see the appeal now.

It’s like a whole social dimension added to a sport. Instead of everyone being on a hockey turf and going hard out for 30 minutes, then a quick break and going hard out again for the second half, the girls got to spend their time lying on the edge of the field chatting, making bets, cheering their mates on, and coming up with new team chants. Every time a batter came off, they received a standing ovation and walked off under a guard of honour by their teammates.

The parents sat in deck chairs under leafy trees, catching up. And in the midst of this we got to watch some awesome performances from a young crew of keen kids. Eva managed to smash her first ever six, and retired herself from two of her games. The last game was an absolute nail biter, with our girls batting first in the T20 and coming up with 64 runs.

We didn’t think they had a chance, as the team they were up against was unbeaten in the tournament. However, the girls showed some great bowling and fielding prowess and kept the opposition quiet in the runs right to the last ball. As the last ball was bowled, they needed three runs to win, and managed one. The girls were absolutely thrilled to take out the win – as were the parents in support.

I left the Bay with a new appreciation for the sport. Arriving home we were quickly brought back down to earth with reports of an empty tank, ewe lambs to toxo, and ewes to dip, but the time away was worth the extra running around required to knock the farm back into shape.