Sri Lanka in New Zealand December 19, 2004

Doubts cast over Hamilton pitch

Cricinfo staff

Westpac Park: what fate awaits? © AFP

The pitch at Westpac Park in Hamilton has come under a cloud and there are doubts over whether it will be ready for the Test between New Zealand and Sri Lanka. The first Test is less than a month away and the weather conditions have made it extremely tough for the pitch to be prepared.

Heath Mills, the Players' Association executive manager, told the New Zealand Herald that there were several concerns with regard to the pitch. "The feedback I've had from players is that they would be very surprised if Westpac Park was ready to host a Test in four weeks time."

However, John Reid, the New Zealand Cricket operations manager, told a spokesman of the board: "The pitch has been checked and cleared in Hamilton and no replacement will be needed."

The man in charge of the surface - Karl Johnson, the groundsman - wasn't too optimistic about getting the pitch in top shape before the game. He said that the weather in Hamilton this summer has made preparation "extremely difficult". Johnson had shipped up Waikari clay from Canterbury at the end of last season to replace the inconsistent Naike soil. He said that he had selected a strip for the Test and would begin rolling it once the warm-up game between Northern Districts and Sri Lanka was over.

"But it has been bloody difficult," Johnson said. "We've had to prove that the block has come through the winter and have had a warrant of fitness passed on it. Waikari always takes a couple of years to settle. It will get better with age and for this Test match we're just looking to get a consistent quality to it. It's not going to be startling and up around the nostrils, but it should be consistent."

The condition of the pitch was a talking point in the recent State Championship match between Northern Districts and Auckland. Mark O'Donnell, the Auckland coach, said, "By day three, there was enough variable bounce to cause problems. Those problems will be magnified in international cricket. Day three is too early for the sort of stuff we saw."

The pitch had also come under scrutiny during last season's Test match between New Zealand and South Africa when a "crater" appeared on the wicket, and nearly forced Clive Lloyd, the match referee, to call off the match.