New Zealand is hosting its first senior matches between Maori sides this weekend with organizers hoping to tap indigenous talent and drive an increase in playing numbers for the nation’s top summer sport.
While names like Nepia and Weepu, have helped New Zealand’s All Blacks dominate world rugby, Maori — who comprise about 15 percent of the country’s 4.5 million people — have played a lesser role in international cricket, with Adam Parore widely considered the first to play a Test.
Few others have followed Parore into the side since his 1990 debut, but two Twenty20 clashes in the central North Island town of Taupo between Northern Districts Maori and Wellington Maori scheduled for today are the first step on the path to changing all that, organizer Graeme Stewart said.
“There are so many opportunities for Maori to really put their foot into cricket,” said Stewart, founder of the Northern Districts Maori in 2010.
“There are [pockets] of Maori players [who] are first class players playing professional cricket, but I don’t think the Maori population have picked up on that,” he said. “I’m positive if we can drive another association to work along the same lines as us [and Wellington] and have these games we will raise the profile.”
Stewart is optimistic the games will increase the number of Maori playing cricket, particularly at the higher levels.
Maori sides within New Zealand’s six first-class associations could provide an additional high performance pathway, he added.
He pointed to the way New Zealand Rugby incorporated Maori sides into the national set-up. Indigenous players still aspire to Super Rugby and selection for the All Blacks, but the Maori side also play a high standard of matches, often against Test nations.
“It feeds into the high performance programs. It’s another link to bring players in,” Stewart said. “There has to be a link between provincial and ‘A’ then first-class cricket,” he said. “I would like to see the Maori sides above the provincial level, but allowing players to push for a contracted spot with the first-class team.”
“That’s the pinnacle where I’d like to see it. Young Maori to get a higher level of cricket where they can then push on to play for the [New Zealand] team,” he said.