By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass killing rippled through the country’s top-class sports on Saturday with two high profile events canceled and the first class cricket title being decided without a ball being bowled in the final round of matches.
A lone gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 20 during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch in the country’s worst mass shooting which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as “a terrorist attack”.
The shootings resulted in the cancellation of the third cricket test between New Zealand and Bangladesh, whose team were on a bus approaching one of the mosques, and the Super Rugby clash between the Otago Highlanders and Canterbury Crusaders in Dunedin.
The test was due to start at Hagley Oval in Christchurch on Saturday, but the Bangladesh team left New Zealand less than 24 hours after the shooting and about an hour after the initial scheduled start time.
The Canterbury cricket team, one of six first-class sides in New Zealand’s domestic Plunket Shield competition, also chose to abandon their final round match in Wellington, which gave the title to Central Districts.
Canterbury were the only side with a mathematical chance of catching Central Districts in the final round of games, but their decision not to travel to Wellington gave the title to last year’s winners.
Canterbury Cricket chief executive Jeremy Curwin said his organization had consulted with the players, who were given the opportunity to make their decision whether to play the final game as individuals or collectively.
“The team showed a united front in terms of the decision, Curwin said in a statement.
“It is clear that this tragedy will affect people in different ways, and Canterbury Cricket is here to support our players however we can.
“We fully respect their decision, and I am incredibly proud of how they conducted themselves throughout this process.”
New Zealand internationals Martin Guptill and Lockie Ferguson, who play first class cricket for Auckland, also withdrew from their team’s match with Otago in Dunedin.
“Both Martin and Lockie felt personally uncomfortable making the trip to Dunedin given the events in Christchurch, and also, the feelings and concerns of their partners and families,” Auckland’s high performance manager Simon Insley said.
“We understand that at times like this, families come first.”
While the Highlanders and Crusaders match was called off, the Waikato Chiefs and Wellington Hurricanes had played their match in Hamilton on Friday, but All Blacks’ scrumhalf TJ Perenara admitted the players’ minds had also been elsewhere.
“Today was bigger than rugby,” the Hurricanes’ Perenara told reporters after the 23-23 draw on Friday.
“Regardless of how that result went, that wouldn’t have been the most important part of my day.
“I don’t think anyone … in this country, would say that rugby was the most important thing.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)