Never have Rotary's many wonderful fellowship qualities and opportunities been better highlighted that at the World Rotary Festival of Cricket in Christchurch, New Zealand, in February 2002.

It was the third such staging of a cricket festival by the International Fellowship of Cricketing Rotarians - the first was at Fordingbridge, England in 1997; and the second at Chennai, India, in 1999.

The Rotary Cricket Fellowship is only one of almost 70 vocational and recreational Fellowships which now enjoy "official" Rotary International recognition.

From amateur radio, bird watching and wine appreciation to dentistry, law and medicine - health, Rotary's list of special Fellowships is extensive. Sports are well represented and, apart from cricket, there are Fellowships for those who enjoy yachting, flying, golf, fishing, horse riding, motorcycling, mountain climbing, skiing, cycling and many other healthy pursuits.

Each Cricket Festival has featured its own special charm and unique qualities - and Christchurch was no exception.

Some 350 Rotarian cricketers, umpires, scorers, team officials, supporters, partners, friends and children gathered in Christchurch - in the heart of Rotary International District 9970 - for the commencement of festivities on Sunday, February 17.

Teams attended from India (5), Australia (3), New Zealand (2), Great Britain and Ireland, and Sri Lanka.

Organisation of the Festival - under the guidance of Festival Convenor Brian Morgan - was impeccable.

The wonderful planning/host committee left nothing to chance. From the impressive opening ceremony and the excellent playing venues, to the entertaining after match "meetings", endless ongoing fellowship, Rotary club visit opportunities, and spectacular Festival dinners, all activities received "super A" rating from visitors!

Host District Governor Keith de Dulin provided exceptional support to the organisers. He attended all functions, provided and presented trophies and even played in one cricket match - his first since high school!

At least two other current District Governors - Ed Chenery from District 9700, N.S.W., and Syd Lewis from 9790, Victoria, also attended the Festival and lent wonderful support.

Visitors enjoyed a sample of Maori culture at a colourful opening ceremony in Christchurch Girls High School auditorium on the opening Sunday night.

Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Honorable Jim Anderton was present to welcome all visitors to New Zealand and the City of Christchurch.

Brian Morgan declared the Festival "open" and World IFCR Secretary Michael Jackson - in the absence of World Chairman Past R.I. Director Geoffrey Pike - responded on behalf of the visitors, and conveyed the Chairman's best wishes to all involved with the Festival.

All participating teams were introduced to the gathering - and performed their country's national anthem - before returning to the Great Hall of the Chateau on the Park (official Festival Hotel) for supper.

With formalities out of the way, teams "squared off" on the Monday morning - and what a wonderful week sporting fellowship followed. Cricket, better than any other sport, lends itself perfectly for "veteran" competition!

Although members of the Sri Lankan team and a couple of the Indian teams were more like "sons of Rotarians", competition was generally pursued in an enthusiastic but "slow motion" manner.

After five days of competition, many aging competitors walked with a distinctive "old man's shuffle"! Indeed, some had trouble walking at all - and one very high profile participant from central west N.S.W. "retired" to hospital for a brief spell after the first day!

Thankfully, organisers were perceptive enough to secure the services of Gloucester Sports Clinic who provided free physiotherapy services for the many needy "athletes".

A memorable "country day" on the Thursday provided a special treat for all players and supporters.

Christchurch and district is a scenic wonderland at any time but some of the grounds to host matches on "country day" recreated visions of cricket from days when life was slower and people took time to appreciate the world around them.

One such ground was "The Willows" at Loburn, North Canterbury - developed by a wonderful supporter of cricket and its life lessons, Christchurch businessman Mike Dormer. The ground and "The Willows Cricket Club" is "dedicated to boy cricketers who keep alive the traditions of the game through generations".

Mike Dormer and his long time friend PDG Gerald Austin were wonderful hosts to a day that will never be forgotten by members of the Great Britain and Ireland and Australia North teams.

Entry through a hedge covered quaint stone wall, impressive pavilion and museum facilities, unique scoreboard, manicured lawns and gardens, deck chairs, tables and umbrellas - with sheep grazing in the background. The ground was straight from a story book!

Much to the chagrin of GB&I, the Australia North team regained Rotary cricket supremacy between the two countries with a narrow win on the day - and "The Willows" presented a special set of "Ashes" to go with the perpetual trophy. Another "treat" for players was the participation of Sam Guillen (West Indian and New Zealand star wicketkeeper of the 1950's) in the presentation ceremony.

At week's end, not many players cared greatly about results. The Indian team from District 3130 was probably the most successful team, closely followed by Australia North and NZ Southern.

All games were 30 or 35 overs per innings, batsmen retired at 35 runs, and bowlers were restricted to seven overs or three wickets.

To quote that popular Indian Rotarian cricketer "JK" Krishnan ... "the best thing one wins at Rotary cricket festivals is new friends"!

Apart from the hilarious after match "happy hours" pulled together by Tom White, social highlights of the week included the Rotary Club of Garden City's international breakfast on Tuesday, the International Cricket Dinner in Christchurch Casino on Wednesday, and the magnificent celebratory farewell function on Friday night.

All functions attracted maximum attendance, with the appearance of NZ's fast bowling sensation Shane Bond the star attraction at the Casino function. A very impressive young man, Shane assisted with the enthralling cricket memorabilia auction that raised $NZ18,000!

Feature of the auction was a set of 10 cricket bats each one signed by one of the ten teams competing in the last Cricket World Cup in England. This coveted item sold to PDG Don Cox of District 9690, Victoria, for $NZ14,000 - with proceeds to be shared by the Scottish Cricket Association (for player development) and The Champions Centre Trust in NZ which provides specialist medical care to children under five and mothers with special needs.

Many people acknowledged the wonderful support of Christchurch Casino and CEO Arthur Pitcher as one of the principal forces behind the overall success of the Festival.

The surprise venue for the farewell function proved a real success ... the Royal NZ Air Force Museum and Function Centre at Wigram.

Outstanding vocal entertainment, dancing and a very popular surprise Paul Harris Fellow recognition for Festival Convenor Brian Morgan - sponsored by all participating teams - provided a fitting culmination.

IFCR Secretary Michael Jackson paid special tribute to Brian and Val Morgan and dedicated Planning Committee - Brian Shackel, Arthur Pitcher, Milton Tindall, Tom White, Paul Murray, Andrew Fibbens, Neil France and Keith de Dulin - and the Advisory Committees - Heather Mitchell, Sue Airey, Val Morgan, Karen France, Jimmy Dillian, Stephen Kilpatrick, and Robert Weir.

Another special group of people - Harash Bajaj, Don McEwan, Brian Moorehead, Murray Cross, Bryce Dunn, John Dean, Bryce Dunn, Chris Luoni, Roger Shannon, Robert Armstrong, John Hannah, Colin Nicholson, Paul Murray, Chris Ward and Murray Purvis - assisted pre festival tours to various Districts.

Valued sponsors of the Festival included Christchurch City Council - Leisure, The Community Trust, The Christchurch Casino, The Chateau on the Park, and Sealord Shellfish Limited.

The annual general meeting of the International Fellowship of Cricketing Rotarians was held at the Chateau on the Park Hotel on February 22.