1992 World Cup hero Dipak Patel happy with sports returning to New Zealand

Though sporting action in New Zealand returned in the form of rugby, the cricketers will have to wait a bit longer to get into the groove.

“Cricket is still not in the forefront. We are obviously in off-season, so it’s not a priority for now,” says former New Zealand all-rounder Dipak Patel.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

It was a symphony of hoots, whistles and cheers as rugby returned to New Zealand to packed stands after a three-month hiatus. It certainly was an incredible moment for the country — which declared itself COVID-19 free recently — and its sporting fraternity.

The stands were packed much before the fixtures began, and fans shook hands with each other, keeping aside the rivalries. That, for sure, has set the tone for the country’s sporting dynamics — coping with the new normal post the pandemic.

However, the cricketers will have to wait a bit longer to get into the groove. While the national team is expected to resume training in a controlled environment, there is not much clarity as to when the clubs would follow suit.

Former New Zealand international Dipak Patel, who keenly follows the sport at the grass-root level, believes that the clubs and the smaller teams will require considerable amount of time before the action begins. “Cricket is still not in the forefront. We are obviously in off-season, so it’s not a priority for now,” Patel told Sportstar from Auckland.

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However, he is excited to see rugby and several other winter sports slowly resuming and the fans supporting them. And that, he feels, would eventually pave the way for cricket as well, in the longer run.

“The Black Caps will be training in Christchurch. They have a facility under cover, so they are slowly building up,” Patel, who has played 37 Tests and 75 ODIs for the Kiwis, said. Even though training could start, a lot would depend on whether the Australia-New Zealand borders are opened, in terms of resuming international tournaments.

“That (Australia)’s where the nearest opposition for the Black Caps will be coming from. Australia will be the best option to start international cricket for the Black Caps. It could be a bilateral series or even a triangular series (around the time when India tours Down Under, later this year),” Patel said.

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“That’s for the future really. This is our off season. There is no first-class cricket being organised. There are no club cricket or school cricket games; everything is on hold,” he said. “Only time will tell when season will start… But definitely, not before November or December.”

While a delayed start means the season could be extended longer, Patel feels that all stakeholders would ideally wait for another month or so before deciding on the future course of action.

“It would take a good one month before cricketers get a hang of things. Now that there are no cases of the virus, the clubs, the board and the players would be waiting to see how things transpire,” he said. “Over a period of time if there are no cases, then we can think of starting the season slowly…”

While the packed stands in the rugby stadiums have given a ray of hope in New Zealand, sunny days are still faraway for other sports!