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August 14, 2013

New Zealand's turf wars

Paul Ford
The Basin Reserve: iconic New Zealand Test venue and full-time traffic roundabout  © Getty Images
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There's a turf war under way in New Zealand on three fronts at the moment.

Battle one is on the southern front, in Christchurch. This one's all about whether the city's home of gun crime, Hagley Oval, should be redeveloped into an international cricket venue in time to host the 2015 World Cup opener.

There's a lot of debate raging about whether a pocket of the ginormous 164-hectare public park should be used for cricket, despite the fact it's already home to an existing Oval for club and first-class games.

My two cents is that hosting the World Cup opener there would be fantastic, but it is a cellar dweller on the New Zealand cricket facilities rankings, so it must be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and up to international standard.

I'm a totally biased cricket supporter but I think sacrificing 3% of the park to deliver a legacy, world-class set-up for a sport loved by Cantabrians is bearable. A glorious, grassy cricket paddock is hardly going to be a serenity killer, given the scale of what is proposed. And remember, it will only be locked down for ticketholders for about three weeks a year.

The second ground conflict is between Queenstown and Nelson, after the little brother's Saxton Oval got the nod ahead of Queenstown's boringly named Queenstown Events Centre. Formerly known as Saxton Field, the Oval bears the name of John Saxton, who was a cracking local farmer as well as a god-fearing musician and talented painter of watercolours.

Of course the hosting wasn't decided on names - it was decided on important stuff like logistics and how you can get a TV camera truck in and out of the place.

My favourite quote in the aftermath of the "hosting shock" was from a chap who was out in the middle playing forward defensives for Northern Districts when I tottled along to my first-ever match at Tauranga Domain many moons ago. Now a local councillor and legal man about Q-Town, Russell Mawhinney said modestly: "I'm just worried that it's a golden opportunity missed to showcase the country and Queenstown in the likes of India."

Russell, I think India would happily skip the venue given their primary recollection of the place would be unhappy memories of being rolled, bowled and rissoled there by an unplayable Andre Adams and a helpful deck.

Mawhinney also threw an ungracious uppercut at the possibility of Queenstown hosting ICC qualifier matches, describing the precursor fixtures as "the booby prize" - seemingly overlooking the fact that the six Nelson-hosted teams actually include two of those very same qualifier teams, as well as the unspectacular trio of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Ireland.

The final fracas is the ongoing one about the Basin Reserve and the government roading agency's desire to improve traffic flows around New Zealand's iconic Test venue and full-time traffic roundabout. There's no astroturf at the capital's cricket ground but there seems to be some hanging around the plans to build a new road, dubbed "the flyover" near the Basin.

The flyover has been one of Wellington's never-ending civic tales for years, but the compromises have been made and a decision has emerged. The flyover will pass the city side of the ground, and a new three-storey stand will be built between the wind tunnel that is the player's room bolted onto the RA Vance Stand and the northern embankment. The Basin has been saved.

I've always had an uneasy feeling when I've encountered the people behind the emotively named Save the Basin Trust, about whether its campaign to protect the Basin for cricket lovers masks a big, hairy, audacious goal of eradicating roads in the area full stop. As they say themselves, Save the Basin is less about cricket and is really all about pushing for "light rail, strategic bus lines, and consideration of walking, biking, and the configuration of Wellington".

To be clear, I have no issue with an organisation sparking up to have its say and combat a government decision with the power of the people. That's called democracy and it works pretty well most days.

The bit that bugs me is that it feels disingenuous to be campaigning to save the Basin when, even after it is saved, and improved to the tune of NZ$12 million, the vitriol continues to emerge. That seems cute at best. It looks like Save the Basin has sought to take advantage of cricket lovers' emotional attachment to this beautiful piece of circular dirt and concrete, already surrounded by multiple lanes of traffic and sirens, in the hope that scaremongering will assist their cause.

It's an approach that doesn't sit well with me.

Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (August 17, 2013, 0:15 GMT)

With the announcement of the grounds I felt that in overlooking Queenstown we have missed a trick. Maybe not so much for cricket but definitely for NZ. How can we not be showcasing one of the most beautiful places you'll ever find to the world?!

On a personal note I am also hugely disappointed Cobham Oval has no games. The Zim ODI & Engs warm up T20s were a great success and well supported by locals. Its a picturesque, purpose built ground. What more can the north do to please the powers that be?

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 2:24 GMT)

The home of gun crime? Really?

Posted by Mob_King on (August 15, 2013, 2:00 GMT)

The real furore about the Basin Reserve has not been addressed in this article: will Regional Wine and Spirits remain in business across the road from the Basin Reserve, ably furnishing thirsty cricket patrons with flagons of craft beer on tap to chuck over the embankment wall?

The pundits demand an answer.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Ford
Paul Ford (aka Paul Holden) is a co-founder of the beloved Beige Brigade, the patriotic and long suffering Kiwi supporters' cult that is a bastion of things brown, tan, tongue-in-cheek and tenuously cricket-related. Paul lives in Wellington, somewhere between the Basin Reserve and Karori Park, and his favourite shot is the front-foot pull. @beigebrigade

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