Royal fun in recovering city
It was simply a game of cricket on the village green, yet for Christchurch it symbolised so much more.
There was Kate flailing away with a yellow plastic bat, her high heels mitigating against making solid contact.
And there was Prince William bowling to her and going astray for the first time on tour, opening with a rank full toss that missed the Latimer Square pitch by a distance.
If village green cricket is the heart and soul of that oh so British game, this match was a sign that the most British of New Zealand cities was on the way back from its darkest day.
When William was last here, Christchurch had just been shattered by the 2011 earthquake, with 185 people dead, 115 of those in the CTV building, which is not far from Latimer Square.
On that visit he mourned and offered sympathy to those who had lost loved ones, or whose lives were in ruins. It sealed his place in Kiwi hearts.
This time he paid tribute to the city’s resilience, but also had fun smacking boundaries around the square that tended to human misery as a first aid centre in the aftermath of the disaster.
Kate, too, ensured there were links to the past by wearing a red Luisa Spagnoli outfit, which she first trotted out at St Andrew’s in Scotland, three days after the tragic news from Christchurch.
It was in Canterbury colours. Red and black did not transform her into a class cricketer, but she was composed enough – avoiding elegantly the full toss, blocking the second away to mid off, then allowed the third through to the keeper.
When she was wicketkeeper, possibly the most stylishly dressed in the history of the game, she showed no inclination to dive, allowing Wills easy runs down to the fine leg boundary.
Cashmere primary school pupil Tim Cross, who fielded while the duchess was batting and bowled to the prince, pinpointed a technical deficiency in Kate’s batting approach.
‘‘It’s a little bit dangerous in high heels, but apart from that it was really good,’’ he said.
Tim was mocked by his friends when Wills carted his bowling to the boundary, unleashing a stylish cover drive.
‘‘I’m a bit gutted, but I’ll get him next time,’’ the 12-year-old said.
Knowing he was bowling to the future king gave him a few jitters, he conceded.
‘‘I didn’t really want to hit him in the head.’’
While the youngsters damned the prince’s bowling as ‘‘a bit rusty’’ and ‘‘a wee bit high’’, New Zealand cricketing great Sir Richard Hadlee made excuses for the wayward opening ball.
‘‘It’s not a very wide pitch, there was no warm-up, and he bowled with a jacket on. I was impressed.’’
It was not all fun and games, far from it. For the first part of the day, Wills and Kate were the city’s most famous disaster tourists, taking in the CTV memorial and the Transitional Cathedral.
They got a more torrid tour than most, meeting people who lost loved ones in the quake. Among those they spoke to were the families of Jayden Andrews-Howland, 15, killed in a bus; Jane-Marie Alberts, 44, who died in the PGC building collapse; Dr Maysoon Abbas, 61, who died in the CTV collapse; and Ian Foldesi, 64, who was killed by falling rocks on the Port Hills.
Capping off the day and keeping with the tour theme of military services and aeroplanes, there was a military remembrance at the Wigram Air Force Museum.
There, the unveiling of a plaque marking the work of peacekeepers turned into another Kate vs Wills sporting contest.
Each grabbed a toggle at one end of the curtain and pulled, but it did not sweetly part to reveal the plaque, it jammed.
So turned into a tug of war, with first Kate ahead, then Wills fighting back. It wound up a draw, with an official stepping in to end the contest by opening it himself.
Today the royals take a break, after six straight days of engagements. Tomorrow they fly to Australia, after a visit to the Police College in Porirua, and a public walkabout in Wellington.
If big-hitting Prince William opts to play cricket there, he can expect a barrage of underarm bowling, given his Christchurch form.