A squad of 13 Wanganui Collegiate School cricketers have embarked on a history-making nine-match, 18-day tour of the West Indies this week.
The team flew out from Auckland on Thursday to the West Indies for the first ever tour to that side of the world by a New Zealand schoolboy side.
It is poignant that as the New Zealand Black Caps are winning the battle against the West Indies' national side here at home, the schoolboys will be attempting to emulate the results against similar teams in Barbados.
Lead by tour manager Gilbert Hokianga and 1st X1coach Warren Marr, the squad of 13 players, captained by Ben Kelt and Charlie Greatbatch embark on the tour aimed at exposing our cricketers to different cultures, conditions and brands of cricket.
The aim was to grow the individual, which in turn will grow the cricketer and 12 of the 13 players are returning to WCS in 2018, said one of Collegiate's other coaches, Dilan Raj.
"The school and the touring committee worked tirelessly to fund raise and are excited that this tour will be the start of many overseas excursions for the Collegiate cricket programme in future years," Raj said.
Former ICC West Indies manager Wendell Coppin and former West Indies fast bowler Franklyn Stephenson were instrumental in organising the Barbados school opposition and venues.
Stephenson's Academy is also home of some of the current West Indies players currently in New Zealand.
"Support from NZ organisations have been fantastic — Cricket Experience NZ used their expertise to put together a well structured itinerary for the all round development of the cricketers, both on and off the field, including an adventure excursion to the Florida Everglades. Kookaburra Cricket NZ have been generously supported with the clothing and tour bags," Raj said.
Air Chathams has also provided generous support. Air Chathams flew the team tour bags to Auckland free of charge on a separate flight from Whanganui.
The tour has attracted attention from many quarters, including messages of support from Black Cap Martin Guptill, New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White and Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall, who reminisced about his time on tour to the West Indies 20 years ago.
"You are both the school's and the district's ambassadors, and I am sure you will conduct yourself with dignity and maturity on and off the field.
"I went to Barbados 20 years ago to follow the Black Caps as they toured the West Indies. The beaches, the seafood, the deep history, and the cricket-loving community made Barbados a particular highlight.
"When you remember that some of the greatest players of all time came from this small island, you are in the very heart of Caribbean, if not world, cricket. Enjoy yourself, play hard, and use the tour to learn about your own cricket, and how you might develop. This is a once in a lifetime experience and can be a building block to a higher level of cricket. Best of luck."
Guptill gave both on and off-field tips to the Collegiate lads. He wrote:
"It's a beautiful place that you guys will love. I'm not sure where you will be playing but I think it could be a little eye-opener there.
"There are certain parts/grounds/facilities that are still under-developed. The key thing for a trip there is to take it for what it is. Don't expect hard, fast or bouncy wickets. They will very likely be low, slow and very hard to score on.
"I hope you guys get some down time to hit up the beaches. St Lawrence Gap is a great place to go out for dinner. Good luck and hit them long," Guptill said.