Maori sides affiliated to New Zealand’s first class teams are preparing to play two matches in Taupo on Sunday which organisers are hoping could lead to the re-establishment of a team to play internationally.
“I think we have previously tried to have a triangular or quad series with a Maori side involved,” Cricket Australia executive general manager of game market development Andrew Ingleton told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“It’s certainly not out of the question,” he added when asked if they would consider inviting a New Zealand Maori team to participate in the future.
“We would certainly consider that.”
Unlike other sporting codes, such as rugby, softball and rugby league, Maori have had little exposure in New Zealand’s cricket team with wicketkeeper Adam Parore widely considered the first Maori to play test cricket in 1990.
The clash between Northern Districts and Wellington Maori on Sunday is seen by organiser Graeme Stewart as an opportunity to increase the number of Maori playing cricket and provide a pathway to the higher echelons of the game.
Stewart is keen to try and emulate Australia’s Imparja Cup competition, which involves indigenous teams from the elite state level down to community level at a tournament in Alice Springs each February.
The competition began in 1994 with a game between teams from Alice Springs and Tennant Creek in Australia’s Northern Territory, Ingleton said, and grew from there with the governing body increasingly involved from 2001.
“It does fit into our overall framework to try and ensure that cricket is a game for everybody,” Ingleton said.
“We do appreciate that cricket can’t rely on the sons of former cricketers to sustain themselves.
“As Australia grows and becomes increasingly diverse we have to make sure that clubs are really engaged in the community they operate in so that everyone can turn up to a club and feel safe and included and comfortable.
“As part of that overall determination, growing indigenous cricket is important because we want to recognise that the first Australians are represented within the game.”
More than 40 teams, both men and women’s sides, competed at the latest tournament with Queensland winning the men’s elite title while New South Wales clinched the women’s competition.
Ingleton said the Imparja Cup was an alternative pathway for indigenous players, with a national indigenous development side selected at the end of the tournament.
The side toured England in 2009, India two years ago and was likely to tour the subcontinent again next year. It had also played Papua New Guinea in the past, Ingleton added.
Aside from the Imparja Cup, Cricket Australia were heavily involved in grassroots development programmes and were taking them into indigenous schools and helping subsidise the cost of not only the programmes but equipment.
“The first Australian team to go overseas and play was an indigenous team,” he said. “Cricket was very popular within the indigenous community but its popularity has waned so we have a concerted effort to ensure that it’s a game they play.”
Ingleton said the indigenous cricket programmes were supposed to complement the high performance pathways already in existence and those indigenous players good enough, like left-arm pace bowler Josh Lalor, were already in the system.
Lalor has played for New South Wales already and appeared for the Australian Chairman’s XI against England at Alice Springs in a tour match late last year.
“I had a conversation this year at the Imparja Cup and they asked ‘how long before we see an indigenous player in a baggy green cap?'” he said.
“There have been a couple over the years,” he added in reference to all-rounder Dan Christian and pace bowler Jason Gillespie, who have Aboriginal heritage.
“But the pathway is the same for every player who is trying to break into the elite level of the sport.
“It’s tough and you have to perform.”
(The story corrects to remove reference to Imparja Cup in headline/lead.)
(Editing by John O’Brien and Nick Mulvenney)