By Noy Shani @NoyShani @TLE_Sport
The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup is almost upon us. The London Economic and Noy Shani focus on one particular host city for whom the upcoming tournament will be extra special.
I visited the Christchurch during Christmas and New Year and the excitement for the World Cup is palpable. The new Hagley Oval hosted its first Test Match on Boxing Day when New Zealand took on Sri Lanka.
It means a lot for a city that on February 22nd 2011 was struck by a disastrous earthquake, one of many, which alone left 185 people dead, many injured and countless number of buildings in tatters.
This event is no like other for Christchurch as Councillor Tim Scandrett asserts: “It’s huge for us. 2015 is time for us to show everybody we are up and running and positive again. The Hagley Oval is one of the most beautiful venues in the world for cricket.”
Prior to the Sri Lanka fixture in December, it had been eight long years since the city had hosted a Test Match compounded by the earthquakes that saw the AMI Stadium permanently damaged beyond use.
“Our young cricketers have not been able to see their heroes from the Black Caps or visiting international teams in this time and therefore a major aspirational and inspirational opportunity was lost,” said Lee Germon, Chief Executive of Canterbury Cricket and former Black Caps captain.
“Our city is recovering from the devastating earthquakes and starting to rebuild. The return of cricket to Christchurch provided an opportunity for our citizens to see that Christchurch can once again host major international events.”
This takes some preparation and Christchurch will make use of over 300 volunteers who will also act as ambassadors over the course of the tournament.
“The roles that our volunteers play in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 experience for fans will be key in showing them how welcoming Christchurch and its people are,” explains Scandrett.
The Oval now contains 22,000 seats and the buzz around the city, which hosted the opening ceremony on Thursday, is reaching new highs.
“11,000 temporary seats and other facilities have been installed, all contributing to a transformation of the ground from a boutique Oval to a cricket stadium,” says Germon.
Councillor Scandrett predicts the tournament will be a massive morale and financial boost to Christchurch: “It reminds people we are on the right road, we are recovering and also hosting the three matches will increase the region’s GDP by 6.6%.”
“Christchurch is going to be one of the most advanced cities in the world. More than $40-45 billion NZD have been invested in the city,” he adds.
The city has been preparing marketing plans to promote the tournament and host the opening ceremony. There has been a massive amount of work over the last two years to prepare for the World Cup, according to Germon.
A special Fanzone and Fantrail will open on Friday featuring live entertainment, food and beverages, backyard cricket games and live screening of all the action, as well as introducing local art and culture through the city’s streets and main parks.
Even the Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel, joined the party saying to the local press: “Having this global event in Christchurch is an honour and a privilege for us and we fully intend to show all our visitors and residents a good time. Great matches, great company and great memories are what they’ll get.”
The Black Caps will kick start the World Cup with their game on Friday 10pm GMT against Sri Lanka at the very same Hagley Oval.
New Zealand is coming into the contest after also beating South Africa by 134 runs in their last warm-up match on Wednesday, a match at the Oval to which entrance was entirely free.
Quickly changing the subject from the Black Caps to avoid any jinx, Scandrett says half jokingly: “I think we have a very good chance. We’ve been doing well, but I like the England vs. Scotland match – I’d put a dollar each way on that.”
Having played for the Black Caps himself, Germon seconds Scandrett’s view about the co-hosts chances in the competition: “I think we have as good a chance as anyone to win the tournament. We have a squad with a number of potential match winners with both bat and ball, we’re in good form and we are playing at home.”
And Germon quickly makes it clear this is far from being just about cricket: “The event is being promoted as not only a celebration of the sport of cricket, but a reason for the people of Christchurch to be proud about our city.
“I am proud in the fact that we have shown enormous resilience to battle through the effects of the earthquakes, proud of the rebuild of the city that will result in a better, world class home and proud that we will show that we are capable of once again holding a major sporting event in our city.”
Noy is a freelance sports writer and journalist www.noyshani.com/