When Bert Horner first started playing cricket at 11, he dreamed of representing his country.
Now, over 40 years on, Horner will finally get that opportunity when he lines up for the New Zealand over-50s team at the over-50s Cricket World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa in March next year.
Horner, a current Maungakaramea premier team player, was selected for the national team after a inter-provincial tournament in Christchurch from October 24-28 where he played for Districts, a side made up of players across the North Island apart from Wellington or Auckland.
Playing against teams from Auckland, Wellington-Tasman and Canterbury-Otago, Districts finished last but that didn't stop Horner, who was the second-highest run scorer across four games with a total of 180 runs and a high score of 79 not out.
The 52-year-old's unbeaten knock of 79 also came against Wellington-Tasman who were the eventual winners. From the tournament, a squad of 16 was selected to contest the World Cup and Horner was chosen as a wicketkeeper-batsman and the only Northlander in the team.
"It's a lifetime dream," Horner said.
"You grow up as a cricket lover, you always dream of putting on a silver fern on your chest and listening to national anthem, it still hasn't really sunk in yet."
The New Zealand over-50s squad, which lost 2018's over-50s World Cup semifinal to Australia needing a six from the last ball, will play seven 45-over matches with a pink ball over 15 days against the likes of Australia, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Canada and Sri Lanka.
After being shoulder-tapped by Northland Cricket Association general manager Stephen Cunis, Horner was first noticed on the national over-50s cricket scene when he scored his first century in about four years in a tournament warm-up game against Kaipaki Cricket Club this year.
"After [the century], I was feeling quite good about going down to the tournament against guys my own age and then everything just fell into place," Horner said.
The Dargaville native, who will be 53 by the time the tournament starts, progressed through the Northland age group teams as a teenager before making the senior men's side, playing alongside Northland cricket legends like Barry Cooper, Brian Dunning and Denis Lloyd.
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After a 23-year stint in England where he played minor county cricket against the likes of former West Indian paceman Joel Garner, Horner returned to play from City Cricket Club before his current club of Maungakaramea.
Horner, who is self-employed as a builder, said it was great to finally reach the national level after over four decades in the game, and felt it was his passion for cricket and regular training which kept him playing for so long.
"A lot of people have said to me, 'why don't you retire?' and I turn around and say, 'I'm still competing against these younger guys so why should I stop playing'," he said.
"I've vowed to myself I'll carry on playing the highest level of cricket I can until I can't contribute to that level anymore, but at the moment I'm seeing the ball well and not letting myself or my teammates down."
Horner said his most special moment in cricket came about eight years when he was asked to play for Northland's senior men's team about two weeks after his father had passed away.
The strong wicketkeeper-batsman went on to score a half-century against Counties Manukau and had an emotional celebration with his cricket-loving father in his thoughts as he raised his bat towards the Cobham Oval clubrooms.
"It's just the honour of playing for Northland which means more to me than anything else, I'd chop my right arm off to play for Northland again," he said.
Despite facing a $5500 bill to pay for his trip over to South Africa, Horner said he was beyond excited to take part in a World Cup and he hoped he would do Northland proud.
"The biggest thing for me is to do well for the side and get through to the final and play at Newlands [cricket ground], and obviously scoring a hundred in the final at the World Cup would be awesome."
Horner said he was thankful for the help given by Northland Cricket general manager Cunis and Maungakaramea premier team captain/coach Neal Parlane for aiding his journey to selection.
New Zealand's over-50s cricket director Jim Morrison, who was a selector for the national team, said Horner was a great addition to the team which was looking to go two steps further than their result in 2018.
"Volume of runs is obviously important and [Horner] is still playing at a good level in Northland and he's seemed really determined to do well in the tournament, you can tell it meant a lot to him," he said.
"As for next year, we are going there to win it, we think we've got a strong enough side, there'll be some good sides, but as a team we will be good enough to compete with anybody."
For more information and live results, visit www.over50scricket.com