Vinnie Yee Werry spied the alleyway first.

The Belmont Intermediate student was travelling with the North Shore Cricket Club under-13 side to India.

His team were returning to their hotel from a match in Agra when he detected a whirring of arms and legs on a rocky patch of ground at an adjacent abandoned school.

Werry and his mates did a spot of reconnaissance and, within minutes, had walked into a cricketing Narnia.


An organic game of New Zealand-versus-India backyard cricket bloomed.

"We went down with extra balls to give away as souvenirs," Werry says.

"We played for an hour and a half until it got dark, and everyone had to go home."

The ground was no Devonport Domain.

"There were potholes, dogs, anything you could have imagined.

"They were no mugs either. Their spinners were pretty handy, especially on a pitch which was slightly dodgy," Werry laughs.

A cricketing Narnia opens up for the team at the back of their Agra hotel. Photo: Gillian Scott
A cricketing Narnia opens up for the team at the back of their Agra hotel. Photo: Gillian Scott

THE MATCH was an unofficial fixture on a tour organised through Sportslink International.

The club opted against traditional post-season destinations like Australia or a humble crossing of Cook Strait. They decided to advance their cricketing knowledge in its modern hub, India.

The opportunity to experience sub-continental conditions appealed, at prices within the realms of a fundraising target.

Sportslink's general manager Murray Scott helped sort the tour logistics. His son Christian was part of the team. He says although they lost their five official matches, the experience highlighted the commitment required to succeed in the sport long-term.

"It was Cricket 101 - total immersion," he says.

"These kids were the same age as ours, but I think a message that got through was that the hours our guys spend on Xbox every week – and a wider range of sports like rugby, soccer, basketball and swimming - the Indian guys spend in the nets.

"They played cover drives in the first over and bowled leggies with beautiful actions because they were confident enough to do it. Technically they were probably two years ahead of us, and that's the result if you practise four-to-five times a week, 10 months a year."

The North Shore team balanced their cricketing ambitions against the wonder of India's golden triangle. They arrived in Delhi and travelled to Jaipur and Agra – including a 5.15am excursion to the Taj Mahal - before finishing in the capital.

Two buses for a touring party of 45 meant parents could do peripheral activities like visit spice markets, or take cooking and walking tours.

"The boys coped pretty well with the heat," Scott says, "but, gee they slept well, too. My son was volunteering to go to bed at 8pm.

"The hospitality was second-to-none. They built marquees for us, several ovals were immaculate, banners and flags were up, and we got delivered samosas at tea breaks.

"School cheer squads came out in their uniforms, and their heroes were mobbed when they won. I'd highly recommend it to anyone wanting the ultimate cricket experience. They loved having us, and we loved being there."

The North Shore under-13s mixed-and-mingled with the Jaipur Academy. Photo: Gillian Scott
The North Shore under-13s mixed-and-mingled with the Jaipur Academy. Photo: Gillian Scott

Sheryl Beaumont went with husband Craig and their three sons. Their youngest, Scott, played in the team.

"Our first impression was how dusty, dirty and hot it was, then we saw beyond that," she says.

"The people we met were so lovely and friendly, and everything was fast, busy and chaotic. We were made to feel so welcome.

"One man in Agra commented every ball of the match between music over a loud speaker, and the teachers at that school were largely young women in their 20s who did a Bollywood-style dance at the end. The students joined in."

The team created indelible memories. National anthems were played pre-match, the Ode of Remembrance was read ahead of the Anzac Day game, and Freddy Birch took a hat-trick in Delhi.

Freddy Birch is mobbed after taking a hat-trick in Delhi. Photo: Gillian Scott
Freddy Birch is mobbed after taking a hat-trick in Delhi. Photo: Gillian Scott

Werry says the conditions took some adjustment.

"In one game I took my helmet off after five balls and started wearing my cap because it was so hot. I thought 'hopefully there's no pace bowlers'.

"I would do any fundraising to get back there. Me and my Dad split the costs half-and-half. I would go to family and friends and offer to help wash cars, windows or mow grass. Anything really."

Many of the boys were Indian Premier League fans, so the itinerary included a Rajasthan Royals-Kolkata Knight Riders game.

Werry loved the atmosphere as much as the match.

"It was way different to a cricket game in New Zealand. There were screaming fans and flags waving everywhere.

"One of the coolest things was people walking around selling food, not like Eden Park where you have to go and get your hot chips.

"They'd come round with samosas and bowls of curry, so you'd just scream and eat food, it was like… crazy."

Scott says one of their tour party encapsulated the trip when asked why he was still awake on a bus journey at night.

He responded: "I don't want to miss a thing. It's like being in your own documentary."

Regardless of where cricket takes each of the tour party from here, they each have a bespoke biopic to reflect on for life.