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'It's just crazy' - Tickner opens up on Cyclone Gabrielle havoc in his hometown

"Cricket to me is obviously my life as well but it is nothing compared to what people are going through at the moment"

Blair Tickner's father John's house in Hawke's Bay was destroyed by the cyclone  •  NZC

Blair Tickner's father John's house in Hawke's Bay was destroyed by the cyclone  •  NZC

As Blair Tickner addressed the media at Basin Reserve in Wellington on Wednesday, he began to choke up. Tickner, the 29-year-old quick bowler, earned his maiden Test cap for New Zealand against England in Mount Maunganui, but the tears were not because of the realising of a boyhood dream. They were for the devastation brought upon his childhood home by Cyclone Gabrielle.
Hawke's Bay, located on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, has borne the brunt of what is being described as the worst storm in the country's living memory. Flooding, high winds and landslips have destroyed homes and basic amenities in the area. Of the estimated 62,000 households without power nationally following the cyclone, almost 40,000 were in Hawke's Bay. On Sunday, police confirmed the deaths of two more people in the region, taking the national death toll to 11. With around 1700 people still uncontactable and uncertainty about what is to come, it will take time before the full scale of the trauma is realised.
Following the conclusion of the first Test within four days, Tickner and Will Young were given special dispensation to return to their homes for a couple of days to check in and help out.
"My father's house has been fully destroyed," Tickner said. "It was good to get back and help them out. And, obviously, it's hard times for the whole region so helping out neighbours and whoever we could. Luckily enough, the Central Stags cricket team was helping alongside us. It has been tough. It's really tough at the moment. But [people at] Hawke's Bay are staying strong.
"Obviously, you grow up there as a kid and it's just… it's just crazy. A bit hard to talk about, really. There are so many damaged little parts of Hawke's Bay I haven't even seen yet. You sort of just get to work: people are just walking down the road and just asking people if they need help and it has just been awesome to see the region pulling together."
What he saw was harrowing: livestock dead on the side of the road, families devastated, familiar places now scenes of destruction. "Their whole life's been flipped upside down. Cricket to me is obviously my life as well but it is nothing compared to what people are going through at the moment."
At times like these, community spirit goes a long way and Tickner's return was not simply just to lend an extra pair of hands. As it happens, his father, John, has an equipment-hire business, which meant access to lifting machinery.
"We've been clearing neighbours' stuff," Tickner said, "using the forklift and loader. I actually got my old man's loader stuck so hopefully he doesn't watch this news report because it's about a metre in the mud at the moment. I probably shouldn't have driven around the neighbour's yard. They said it wasn't that deep and I got it stuck. So yeah, sorry about that, dad."
It has been a week of dramatic contrasts for the family. Tickner was in the original squad for the first Test and told early last week he would be debuting. However, the cyclone hit two days before the start, knocking out the power and meaning he could not get a hold of people to tell them the good news. When he did get through to his father, the conversation turned to whether he should even play.
"I finally got hold of my dad and he just wanted us to represent our family well and represent Hawke's Bay. I couldn't really say no to playing my first Test and I knew I was going to help out, I just wanted to be a bright light for them at home."
The defeat to England by 267 runs reflects England's domination, though Tickner grew into the match. Figures of 1 for 72 in 13 overs in the first innings were improved to 3 for 55 in the second. While his wife was able to come down for the whole thing, John only had a small window on day one. Thankfully, he was able to see his son remove Ben Duckett.
"He was taking generators back down to Hawke's Bay to help the people," Tickner said. "He just stopped in for about half an hour, luckily saw my first Test wicket, and then went on to a seven-hour drive back home to help everyone."
There is a pang of guilt for Tickner, not least because Tauranga and Mount Maunganui became something of a bubble: everything geared towards the Test and good weather compared to what was unfolding elsewhere. There was rain in the build-up, but the match days were uninterrupted. It was easy for those unaffected to forget how bad things were a matter of hours down the road.
As such, New Zealand Cricket as a whole is looking to offer assistance. On Wednesday, it announced it would be partnering with ANZ NZ to raise money for the New Zealand Red Cross Disaster Fund during an ODI against Sri Lanka at Eden Park on Sunday. ANZ NZ will be pledging the equivalent of around US$ 622,600 and encouraging the public to donate further. All ticket proceeds will be donated to the fund.
"We were wanting to help out how we could," Tickner said, "and it's awesome to see NZC and ANZ coming forward for the first game against Sri Lanka. It's going to be awesome. Hopefully, we can have a sell-out and all that money goes to them. The cyclone, it's around the whole of New Zealand - it's been hard for everyone throughout the country, I'm not saying just Hawke's Bay. I just want everyone to go out and support and you can help donate food, clothing all around New Zealand. So everyone can help."
Tickner will look to get back and continue to help in the recovery in Hawke's Bay. Following the culmination of this series with England, there is a nine-day gap between the start of another two-match series against Sri Lanka.
What distractions there are for the New Zealand team this week are understandable. Especially with matters far more important than cricket occupying them. But Tickner is hoping a squad brought together by their country's pain can produce a strong reaction in Wellington this week.
"I definitely want to get my first win in Test match cricket and really want to do it for the people in Hawke's Bay," he said. "Now we've banded together as a team and fundraising this money I think it's going to be very special."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo