Besides taking on Cricket Drome, the young players from New Zealand, Hutt Hawks, enjoyed the local flavours of the city

From the cold, clean and calm environs back home to the heat, dust and noise of the sub-continent. Any tour of India can be a complete study in contrasts for aspirants from New Zealand.

Here, they do not just evolve as cricketers but also as human beings. For the youngsters from Hutt Hawks, Wellington, the journey to India proved fascinating in every sense.

For a start, they paraded their skills at Chennai’s lovely Marina ground, flanked by the Bay of Bengal on one side, and a railway track where suburban trains flashed across, on the other.

Many spectators

“We had never seen anything like it. And there were so many people watching the match from outside the wall on one side,” said the young leg-spinning batsman Charlie Porteous.

The Hutt Hawks, a side comprising under-16 and u-19 cricketers, was in Chennai recently to take on Cricket Drome, an enterprising academy in the city, in a series of one-day and twenty20 matches.

Ravi Krishnamurthy, the coach-cum-player of the side, said, “The conditions were challenging and the ball turned. There was bounce too on the pitches here. And off the field, Chennai, culturally, exposed the young cricketers to so many new things.”

Someone who breathes cricket, Ravi’s passion for the game shines through. He has played second division cricket for Wellington and now is a level three coach.

The Indian presence in Kiwi cricket is increasingly visible. Neeraj Chawla, a former Delhi Ranji top-order batsman of 1999-2000, is part of Hutt Hawks too as a level three coach.

Apart from putting the youngsters on the right path, Neeraj nurtures a dream — to play first class cricket for Wellington. Now, 33, he represented the district ‘A’ team last season. Hopes never die in some.

Cricket is a many-layered sport and talented batsman Troy Johnson, who made the New Zealand under-19 squad last season, said the trip to India opened his eyes to the game’s several new facets. “In New Zealand, particularly in Wellington, we are used to playing on greenish wickets. The ball from the spinners tends to skid through. Here, the ball gripped for the spinners and it was a totally new ball game. We had to be decisive with our footwork.”

Battling it out in the humid conditions here, he said, “enabled the players to test their levels of fitness.” Johnson added, “If you are not up to it physically, you would struggle in a place like Chennai.”

Rachin Ravindra — several youngsters from Hutt Hawks have roots in Bangalore and Chennai — is a left-arm-spinning all-rounder with possibilities. “In New Zealand, the ball does a lot off the seam all day. Here the ball gets older quickly because of the harder ground and the outfield and the spinners come into play sooner.”

Rewarding time

The focussed Rachin had a rewarding time in Chennai with a hat-trick against Cricket Drome in a twenty20 game. He appears to be a fast learner.

As part of a memorandum of understanding, a team from Cricket Drome will travel to New Zealand later this year. Former India cricketer Sridharan Sriram, who oversees day-to-day coaching at the Drome, said mutual visits would enable both teams adapt to the conditions and make the cricketers more rounded.

Drome’s general manager, former India under-19 and first class cricketer, Sunil Viswanathan, said this annual exchange of tours between sides from such different cricketing topography will enhance the development of young players.

The lively Hutt Hawks cricketers loved Chennai, its sights, decibel-levels, food (they could not get enough of the idlis, the dosas and the vadas) and “kind” people.

Almost all of them cannot wait to return to the city next year. Cricket, indeed, is a bridge-builder at several levels.