Cricket

Cricketing MP Kiri Allan one of a kind at World Cup

Kiri Allan may be the only woman playing in the Inter Parliamentary Cricket World Cup in London, but she’s not afraid to face some of the greatest male cricketers the game has ever seen.

In fact, the Labour MP from the East Coast can’t wait to play against Pakistan’s president Imran Khan, recently retired Indian MP Sachin Tendulkar, and Bangladesh politician Mashrafe Mortaza – that’s if the Bangladesh national XI he captains are knocked out of the other Cricket World Cup being played in England right now.

Allan may also square up to the Leader of the UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, whose childhood dream was to be England’s opening batsman (he’s 70 now).

Allan is proud of her own cricketing background – having played in the Auckland Girls’ Grammar First XI until she left school at 16 – and has been given special training leading up to this World Cup from the Wellington Blaze squad, the national T20 women’s champions.

“It’s all cricket on my [social media] threads right now,” Allan says. “My wife is laughing at me, saying ‘Give it a break!’ But you’ve got to commit yourself, you’ve got to be dedicated.

“I want to do our country proud,”

This is, after all, a World Cup – of sorts.

Eight parliamentary teams from around the world have been invited to play in the tournament, created to coincide with the authentic Cricket World Cup.

They will play at grounds around London, and watch the ICC World Cup grand final at No. 10 Downing Street, with whoever the new Prime Minister in residence may be. Allan hopes she will be watching a Black Caps victory.

Allan was the only woman who stumped up to play in the Parly XI. As far as she knows, she will be the sole female playing at the tournament.

But she’s not the first woman to turn out for New Zealand’s team of parliamentarians.

“I found a phenomenal photo the other day of Marilyn Waring playing, all dressed in white kit,” she says.

The photo, taken in February 1979, shows National Party backbencher Waring at the crease, wearing a white floppy hat and a t-shirt reading “Abortion a woman’s right”. She has a look of grim determination on her face as she attempts to pull the ball to mid-wicket.

That match was the first time women had played in the annual cricket clash for the Wood Shield, between the Parliamentarians and Diplomats, in Wellington. Labour MP Ann Hercus, who would later become the first Minister of Women’s Affairs, played in that historic match too – wearing a white jumpsuit and sandals.

Allan has been part of the New Zealand team since she became a list MP in 2017.

“We try to play a few games every year against the diplomat sides, and we’ve won most of those,” she says.

“Cricket was the first sport I played reps in, all the way through school. I went to sign up for a club when I came to Wellington, but I couldn’t commit the time.”

She’s a batswoman who can “smash the ball, and smash it hard”. Frequent training sessions have helped to get her eye in: “So it feels pretty good now”.

Kiri Allan is looking forward to both playing cricket in London and meeting decision-makers from around the world. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

Allan’s team-mates have described her training regime for this tour as “epic”. For the last two months, she’s been practising at indoor nets at the Cake Tin (Westpac Stadium) with the women from the Blaze and their coach, Ivan Tissera.

“A lot of my mates are cricketers in the Blaze. They have been coaching me - and mocking me,” she laughs. “But they’ve been exceptional, taking me in. They can only work with what they’ve got, but there’s definitely been an improvement!”

Allen, a junior parliament whip, also keeps the team in line with training, and is hoping to squeeze in two more sessions for the Parly XI before they leave early next week.

“There’s been lots of chat going on in the team about everything to do with the game - from what boxes they’re going to wear, to the actual competition,” Allan says.

It will be four intense days of cricket. All eight teams play each other in a six overs-a-side warm-up at Teddington Cricket Club, before splitting off the next day into pool play. New Zealand will meet Australia, Bangladesh and India in 15-over-per-side matches. The semi-finals and final are T20 affairs.

“The final is supposed to be played on the No. 2 ground at Lords. Imagine that? The Blaze girls who live for cricket keep asking me ‘how is this happening'?” Allan says.

Some of the international XIs boast cricket greats-turned-politicians, like Khan (who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup), master batsman Tendulkar, graceful Indian batsman Mohammad Azharuddin and Naimur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first captain. Pakistan Cricket held a week-long training camp with 47 politicians aged under 45 trialling for places in the side.

The New Zealand Parly XI can’t claim any international stars, but Allan highly rates her co-captains -Labour’s Kieran McAnulty and National’s Chris Bishop. McAnulty is a quick and sharp wicketkeeper, Allan says, while Bishop has “great chat”.

But it won’t just be all about cricket. “In politics, we call it soft diplomacy,” Allan says.

“I’ll be shaking the hand of the new Prime Minister of the UK. The cricket will be awesome, but there is definitely another big component to this - getting to know other decision-makers from around the world. And it will be a time to get to know each other within our own team.”

Three parties are represented in the Parli XI - Labour, National and NZ First.

“One thing New Zealanders probably don’t understand it that we can all have a beer together after work," Allan says. 

“Ninety per cent of the time people are doing this job because they’re genuinely concerned about their country; a common theme drives most of us to make a better New Zealand. I enjoy the relationships I’ve made, I really value them.”

Allan emphasises that the team are paying their own way to London – there are no taxpayer-funded flights, and their accommodation and black playing kit are covered by sponsors.  

“Most of us are doing it for the incredible experience to be at the World Cup,” she says.

* New Zealand’s Parliamentary netball team, the Parli Ferns, will be playing in the first Inter Parliamentary netball tournament, against Australia and the UK, around the same time, before heading to Liverpool to support the Silver Ferns at the Netball World Cup.

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