From the Bay to the Basin
What's the most beautiful cricket ground in the world? Everyone has an opinion on this. You've probably had the same argument leaning on a bar or sitting in a stand or lying on a grass bank.
Adelaide Oval probably features, or at least it would have done before a cricket ground became an AFL stadium. The same doubts probably bubble around the developments at Newlands. Arundel and Wormsley are most likely in the list of gorgeous grounds for their classical beauty, Dharamsala and Galle for their dramatic backdrops, Colombo and Antigua's Rec for that ramshackle charm.
Definitely you'll have a ground in New Zealand on your list. Regardless of the seven grounds that will be seen and heard about during the World Cup, there will be some aesthetic absences. We take a look at seven grounds that didn't make the World Cup cut. The reasons are logistical, but a return to these missing grounds will stir a whimsy: whether New Zealand emerged from the oceans simply to provide beautiful places to watch cricket.
The North Island is home to four World Cup venues - Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Napier. The following four are the delights that the world will be missing.
Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
Part of the weirdly beautiful Pukekura Park's beauty is that it's worth visiting even if not for cricket. it boasts a diddy zoo, lakes on which to boat, tea rooms, a seasonal festival of lights, lush lawns, wild bushwalks and all sorts of exotic flora and fauna alongside. Glorious.
But the cricket ground, that's something else entirely. It's a typically stunning piece of rural New Zealand. Natural is the key word. The air hangs thick with the smell of rhododendrons wafting over from the park; on one side, two adjacent steep hillocks provide natural, angular grandstands with grass poking through the layered wooden, levelled benches. Around the rest of the ground are further, sparser, steeper, more sporadic undulating humps that serve the same purpose; foliage, not uniform in height, forms a ring behind all but one end and provides beautiful dappled lighting over those seated when the sun shines.
There's a grand art deco gate at the only clear end, an end that serves as a window out to the real world that lies outside, however easy it is to forget it's there. And there's a perfectly conical volcano within a stone's throw. The square is an oasis amidst this world of organic funk: a greener scene is not easy to imagine. I dare your jaw not to drop.
Cobham Oval, Whangarei
Now this is a beautiful part of the world. Just south of the Bay of Islands, Whangarei is New Zealand's northernmost city, a charming port boasting spectacular waterfalls, islands in the harbour, beautiful volcanic mountains, white sands, velvety conifers and, you guessed it, a classic cricket ground. Cobham Oval was approved for international cricket in 2011 and hosted its first ODI the following year, between New Zealand and Zimbabwe.
Who was Cobham? That would be Charles Lyttelton, the 10th Viscount Cobham, Worcestershire captain in the 1930s and, later, the ninth Governor General of New Zealand. The ground in his name lies next to the Hatea River and minutes from the town centre. It draws on colonial design and an English village-green feel. The pavilion is grand and imperial - sandstone in colour and with a clock and turrets for decoration - dominating the scenery at third man, next to the sightscreen. Beyond that it's simple: bunds and banks all around.
Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, Tauranga
"The Mount" is a pretty lovely place in which to summer. Thousands sprawl from the North Island's urban centres and beyond every year to enjoy the spectacular, narrow peninsula on the Pacific: magnificent surf one side, sheltered bay the other, a dormant volcano at its tip and a cute little town to boot. It's a lovely place to play or watch cricket too, as New Zealand and South Africa and thousands of fans discovered when Bay Oval hosted the first ever internationals to be played in New Zealand in October, earlier this year.
Work started on this ground in 2005, with the excavation of huge amounts of dry land and sand. The result is stunning: a smart modern pavilion surrounded by lush green banks and a vast oval, all just a matter of metres from the sea. The ground feels made for Test cricket. That hasn't happened yet but those two days against South Africa in October were a fine audition.
Bay of Plenty doesn't often see international sport so the hardy locals flocked in, even though spring was young. They created quite the festival atmosphere and it was a sea of white on green: tall green trees obscured the view of the white beaches; white steps ran from the pavilion to the green outfield, which in turn was flanked by a white picket fence, separating the fans, lounging on gentle green banks with that big green volcano in the background.
Basin Reserve, Wellington
The Basin, like the city in which it dwells, has many peculiarities. The home of New Zealand Test cricket sits on Rugby Street, which says plenty about the game's standing in the country, although it is one of New Zealand's only sports grounds on the National Heritage list.
It just appears from nowhere as you walk through town, is essentially a massive roundabout in the middle of Wellington, and is sheltered, in part, from the city's famous elements by Mt Cook and Mt Victoria. That it only exists because an earthquake in 1855 flattened a swamp out enough to build a track adds to its charm.
Charm it has in spades, and all of it has been retained. Fans are still invited onto the outfield during breaks in play, there's a footpath that runs the perimeter of the pitch inside of the viewing areas, which are exquisite: the grass bank to the east is surely one of the most serene places to watch the game, with its rotund trees behind and the recently returned William Wakefield Memorial sat nobly in the middle. There's ample covered seating opposite in the fanciful colonial Museum Stand (home, unsurprisingly, to the New Zealand Cricket Museum) and the tastefully designed RA Vance Stand next door. It is also solely a cricket ground, which is an important rarity in the Antipodes; it is why the Basin rarely feels misshapen or cavernously hollow like Eden Park can. On off days, you can just wander for a stroll, a lie-down, or simply soak up the unspoiled history of it all.
On one such visit earlier this year, I found the Basin showing off about its place in New Zealand's cricketing story, proudly emblazoning a DIY paint job on a window, reading "Crowe 299 McCullum 302" in honour of the pair's remarkable feats at the ground. Thankfully, the recent threat of the ground falling in a flight path has been averted, so we can enjoy this virginal, unblemished, boutique cricket ground in the heart of the city just the way it always was.