New Delhi: Former New Zealand fast bowler Geoff Allott says the national team's performance in the World Cup has brought the "lost fans" back to the game, reinforcing cricket as the number one summer sport in the country.
Co-hosts New Zealand have managed to attract the attention of masses like never before with their unbeaten run in the tournament and a victory in Sunday's final against Australia at MCG will further push its popularity in a rugby mad nation.
"The atmosphere around New Zealand is unbelievable mate. Cricket in this country had its issues in the last 24 months but I think in the aggressive manner in which Brendon (McCullum) has led the side and the wonderful culture that has been developed in the side has really brought the public back to cricket," Allott, who is now on the Board of New Zealand Cricket, told PTI from Christchurch today.
The 43-year-old was at Eden Park when Grant Elliot smashed Dale Steyn for a six to finally send Black Caps into their maiden final after falling flat in the last four stage six times in the previous editions.
"The atmosphere at the games have been electric and Eden Park especially was something special. Ranging from who's who of New Zealand to the general public, people can't stop talking about the semifinal win.
"More importantly, our kids are all engrossed in the game. They are talking about the game and want to emulate their heroes. We even had members of All Blacks (the national rugby team) turning up for the semifinal. Basically, the people who were not talking about cricket are now going to games. It (World Cup) could not have gone any better from the New Zealand point of view," said Allott.
The once feared left-arm pacer, best known for being the joint leading wicket-taker in the 1999 edition, now can't wait for Sunday's final when New Zealand face the challenge of taking on the mighty Australia in their own backyard.
"The four teams made the best semifinal and the best two teams are in the final now."
Remind him about New Zealand not having played in Australia in the competition so far, Allott says adapting to MCG will be a challenge.
"You raise a valid point that we have not played in Australian conditions but it is actually the preparation that makes the difference. These players have shown that they are not overawed by the occasion. They will enjoy, they will play with the same aggression they have shown all through this tournament. And with a bit of luck on our side, you never know," he said.
Allott could not be happier that Trent Boult (21 wickets), a left arm pacer like him, has broken his 1999 record to be the country's top World Cup wicket-taker.
Ask Allott about McCullum led side being the best ever to play for New Zealand, he chooses to explain what makes the the current lot a formidable unit.
"I would not like to compare eras but would I definitely say that this group is made of world class cricketers. I think what you seeing is that everyone is capable of a match-winning performance.
"We have had amazing performances from Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Grant Elliott, Dan Vettori, Mcullum himself and Martin Guptill too has proved his worth with a double century.
"I think all these players performing together has been the difference," he said.
He too can't stop raving about McCullum's leadership.
"Firstly he leads by example. He has helped develop culture based on unwavering commitment to the team. He plays the game in a very positive, aggressive style and that reflects on the field. He is not afraid of putting four slips and a gully. The guys have got behind him and everyone knows what their individual job is."
He concludes by praising Boult, who surpassed his 1999 feat to be New Zealand's leading World Cup wicket-taker.
"To be honest I could not be happier. I had the pleasure of having a discussion with him after the semifinal.
"I know the amount of hard work has put in to prepare himself for World Cup, bearing in mind that he was not a certain selection before the tournament. To have such an impact is really commendable. His ability to strike regularly has really set the game up for New Zealand," added Allott.