Auckland, June 26 (IANS) New Zealand cricketers reached home from England after winning the World Test Championship (WTC) final but with social distancing norms in place, their walk through the airport and to hotel, where players will quarantine for 14 days, was devoid of hugs, handshakes from airport staff and others who wanted to catch a glimpse of the mace.
“Everything is social distanced, so you can’t even really shake their hands, and we had the mace, everyone wanted to take a photo, you can’t even do that, or we couldn’t pass it on,” pace bowler Neil Wagner told media via zoom later.
“It’s a bit of a shame… It was quite nice to see some Kiwis walk past and see what it means to them, albeit in the distance waving away, and saying congratulations, it means a lot to all the boys.”
For a nation of just five million people, an International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament has come their way very rarely. The last and only ICC trophy they won was ICC Knockouts, a precursor to Champions Trophy, back in 2000.
The eight-wicket win at Southampton against a strong and star-studded India, therefore, was special and got them rousing reception at the airport.
“I don’t think I have ever walked into customs and got greeted the way we did. Everyone was just straight away (saying) congratulations, pretty happy, grabbed our passports and all they wanted to ask was, ‘Where is the mace, where is the mace?’,” added Wagner.
“Seeing even police officers stopping wanting to have a photo from a distance with it… it was nice to see the smiles on everyone’s faces. It sort of hit home pretty hard what it meant to people back here,” added the left-arm pace bowler.
The mace, as of now, rests in the hotel room of BJ Watling, the 75-Test veteran wicketkeeper who has quit international cricket. Watling, who has taken 267 catches and effected eight stumpings in Tests, took five catches in the WTC final.
The 35-year-old Watling tucked the mace in his bed and shared a photo with his teammates.
“We shared the mace around on the plane and throughout the whole night while celebrating, everybody had their turn to carry it round and make full use of that,” Wagner said.
The mace, interestingly, had its own seat with the seat-belt fastened.
“And then on the plane, Ross (Taylor) got me to hand over the mace to BJ Watling. He is going to take care of it for the next two weeks in isolation,” revealed Wagner.
“I think it’s a fitting way for him to send his career off, it’s been an amazing career for us, the role he has played for a number of years now, just the whole person he is and heart and soul of the team.
“He epitomises everything we are about as a team, the team-first attitude, being a guy that scraps and fights for everything, he’s led that all the way from the start. He’ll be sorely missed in this team.”