It has taken a long time, but the word has slowly spread around the Bay of Plenty in the Northern Island of New Zealand about the Under-19 World Cup final. For the first time since the start of the event, India’s final net session before the match drew a small crowd.
On Saturday, however, close to 3000 fans are expected, at the Bay Oval on the base of scenic Mount Maunganui. Speak to the locals on the lack of coverage on the U-19 World Cup, and you realise the city of Tauranga is now a settlement town for most retirees of New Zealand. It’s beautiful beaches, close proximity to Auckland and the relatively warm weather has made this a paradise for the older generation of this country.
But amongst all the local population is the strong Punjabi community of close to 2000. Many of them, Kiwi fruit farmers, are thrilled of watching the next generation of India competing for the U-19 World Cup title at the footsteps on their homes.
Gurpreet Singh, one of the members attending the practice session told Firstpost on how he and his friends are excited ahead of the final.
“This is our moment to support the national team. The senior cricket team comes here maybe once in five years, but this year we are lucky to see the new stars of Indian cricket. They have thrashed everyone to date and we want to witness these boys winning the World Cup from close proximity,” he explained in his native Punjabi.
However, there will also be a set of supporters with an Indian background that will be supporting Australia. Jason Sangha and Param Uppal will have a handful of family donning the yellow of Australia and screaming their support.
In India’s pool games during the World Cup, a number of patriotic supporters added to the atmosphere by singing and chanting slogans. Much of the same is expected on Friday and accordingly to the players, such support is always seen as the extra motivation.
While the excitement in Tauranga might be minuscule to that of India on Saturday, the low-profile build-up also means the players and the support staff can enjoy the beautiful surroundings without being disturbed.
The last time India won the U-19 World Cup in Australia, Unmukt Chand relished the fact that they were isolated in a bubble, totally oblivious to the hype and excitement back in India. It is fair to say, the like of Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill and the coach Rahul Dravid are enjoying the lack of media scrutiny and fanfare.
While the team is loving the anonymity for now, but if India lift the World Cup, rest assured the hotel lobby is unlikely to be as quiet as it has been over the past few days. There was already a hint of the publicity the players can expect at the training session, with many fans inquiring about Shubman Gill. Undoubtedly, Gill has become the favourite of the Punjabi community and he is expected to get strongest support when he walks out to bat.
As if the local Indian support was not adequate, the team in blue will also inherit the backing of the New Zealand fans. A local volunteer present at the Bay Oval told Firstpost, “Think the golden rule in New Zealand is support your own team and then any team playing against Australia. So since our lads are not in the final, its India all the way mate.”
Tauranga might be a place where locals are used to heading to bed early, but if India lift the trophy, the city could be buzzing well into Sunday morning.
In the near future, few of these cricketers will become superstars, who will know how to evade the public eye. But for now, they are happy soaking in the fanfare and adulation that comes with them being the U-19 stars.