Royals bowl over Christchurch with cricket display

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand - Cricket and high fashion may seem strange bedfellows, but Prince William's wife Kate combined both with aplomb on Monday in New Zealand when she showed off her batting skills in heels.

The duchess and duke of Cambridge faced off in a light-hearted match during the British royals' visit to Christchurch, providing a moment of levity ahead of a remembrance service for victims of an earthquake that devastated the South Island city in 2011.

Clad in a scarlet Luisa Spagnoli skirt suit and black heels, Kate made an unlikely sight as she strode to the crease clutching a yellow plastic bat, her face a picture of concentration as William prepared to bowl from the other end.

His first ball was a fizzing bouncer that narrowly missed his wife's head, prompting her to wag her finger at him while the umpire warned the second in line to the throne to find a better line and length.

Kate did manage to get bat on ball but it was William who impressed most with the blade, smashing a hook shot off one young bowler and dispatching another ball to the boundary.

"It's not a very wide pitch, there was no warm-up, and he bowled with a jacket on. I was impressed," said legendary New Zealand all-rounder Richard Hadlee, who acted as wicketkeeper for the game in Christchurch's Latimer Square.

Christchurch is one of the host venues for next year's Cricket World Cup. The event is seen by locals as a signal that the city is returning to normal after the February 2011 earthquake flattened much of the downtown area and claimed 185 lives.

The royals, who began a three-week tour of New Zealand and Australia on April 7, visited a memorial at the site of the CTV building, which collapsed in the disaster killing 115.

After meeting the families of victims they attended a service at the city's "cardboard cathedral", a structure made of cardboard tubes that award-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed to replace the 1881 Anglican cathedral destroyed in the quake.

William, who visited Christchurch shortly after the quake, said the visit revived memories of the "awful" tragedy that hit the city but also showed how much progress had been made as it undergoes a NZ$40 billion (S$43.4 billion) rebuild.

"Despite the daunting job ahead of you, life continues with classic Kiwi humour, creativity, innovation, and determination - Christchurch remains a buzzing, thriving city," he said.

"Christchurch is a city which has chosen not only to survive but to thrive. Catherine and I look forward to coming back to see how the city takes shape."

Baby Prince George, who is travelling with his parents on the tour, remained at their Wellington base on Monday. The royals will leave for Australia on Wednesday.