South Asians 'stoked' to qualify for under-19 Cricket World Cup
Rahman Hekmat, Snehith Reddy and Oliver Tewatiya are still buzzing after representing New Zealand at the 2024 Cricket World Cup qualifiers in Darwin last month.
"We're all stoked," Hekmat said when asked about qualifying for the 2024 Under-19 Cricket World Cup in Sri Lanka.
Hekmat is an 18-year-old leg spinner from Auckland.
"Cricket has always been a sport that I really enjoyed," he said. "I started playing with my dad when I was young, and I found it really fun and entertaining."
The game taught him a lot about life in general, he said. "You have your ups and downs. You learn a lot from it."
Hekmat is believed to be the first player with Afghan heritage to represent New Zealand at cricket in an under-19 national team. His family moved to New Zealand from Afghanistan when he was an infant.
"I'm very proud. When I made it to the team, I got a lot of messages and calls from Afghans asking if I needed anything. It was very supportive of them, and it's a big thing for me representing them.
"It also motivated me to do much better and perform at the highest level possible since I'm the first."
Learning to bowl leg spin was his biggest challenge.
"It's definitely not easy. You don't really have much pace on the ball, so if you miss by a little bit, like a bit short or a bit full, the balls are really nice and slow, and it can be whacked out of the park."
Hekmat looked up to Shane Warne and Ish Sodhi as role models. He had taken a break from his studies to concentrate on his cricket and was looking forward to the World Cup selections later this year - and dreamed of playing for the Black Caps one day.
Tewatiya, a 17-year-old all-rounder from Wellington, shared the same dream. He is a Year 13 student at Hutt Valley High School.
Tewatiya, also known as Ollie, grew up around a lot of cricket back in Delhi, India.
"There was a lot of cricket on the street, and I kind of started there and fell in love with the game," he said.
Tewatiya came to New Zealand when he was about 10 years old, but his cricket career only began later.
"I didn't know how cricket worked here," he said. However, everything changed when his family moved from Auckland to Wellington.
"I remember when we moved to Wellington and there was a ground right next to our house and, one day, I saw a lot of kids playing cricket.
"I got excited and told my dad to go talk to them and find out which clubs they played for and stuff like that, and he went and talked to them. We kind of went from there."
Playing in the World Cup qualifiers was a "good start", he said. "It feels like all the hard work is kind of being rewarded in a way."
Virat Kohli and Rachin Ravindra were Tewatiya's cricket heroes.
"I've always wanted to be like Kohli. I always wanted to be that good and be the best in the world, but I'm also into Rachin Ravindra."
Tewatiya said he drew a lot of inspiration from Ravindra. "He is like me, and he's playing for the Black Caps. He inspires me because if he can do it, I can also do it."
Reddy was another Kohli fan. "He's unreal," Reddy said.
Reddy, one of the youngest players on the team at just 16 years old, is a batsman who started playing just three years ago.
"My dad played cricket, so naturally, I started training," Reddy said. "I started hitting a lot of balls and started falling in love with the game."
Reddy went to Hamilton High School and believed it is a "huge privilege" to represent New Zealand. Reddy's family is from Andhra Pradesh, a southern state in India.
"I still have my grandparents there, and we tend to go there quite often, every couple of years."
He was happy to see more players from the community playing for New Zealand. "It's definitely cool, getting to learn and hear about different cultures is really great."
Like Hekmat and Tewatiya, Reddy was also eyeing a spot on the World Cup squad for next year.
"That's what I'm looking forward to, but in the long term, obviously representing Northern Districts and playing for New Zealand and doing it successfully is my goal."