December 5, 2014

Mountains, glaciers and cricket

In part two of our look at scenic cricket venues in New Zealand that failed to make the World Cup cut: South Island's finest

Queenstown: a remarkable ground towered over by the Remarkables Phil Walter / © Getty Images

The South Island is home to some of the world's most dramatic scenery - lakes Wanaka, Tekapo and Nelson, the Remarkables mountain range, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, stunning meetings of land and sea like at Milford Sound, and much more. The cricket grounds aren't bad either.

Bert Sutcliffe Oval, Lincoln Bert Sutcliffe Oval has a rather straightforward, old world feel to it for a cricket ground that is part of New Zealand Cricket's High Performance Centre. The ground hosted the 2000 Women's World Cup (Cricinfo sponsored that) and also housed a pair of World Cup qualifiers earlier this year.

The cricket ground itself, though, rather than the snazzy centre to which it belongs, is more befitting Lincoln University, to which it is attached - a grand, red-brick affair - or the man whose name it takes. Bert Sutcliffe was as handsome a player as he was a man - tall, strapping, blond, and as textbook with the bat as any, strong on front foot and back, through leg side and off.

His cricket ground is every bit as refined. It's one of those ovals that just looks perfect, in person or in pictures. The outfield is vast, unblemished and flat as a pancake, the track a pretty golden yellow amid the lush green, all circled by a knee-high white picket fence. There are trees a few feet beyond that fence - a mixture of perfectly manicured and lined-up numbers and sporadically placed, standalone, overhanging, wild-limbed things, many of which have a bench underneath.

The pavilion is the centrepiece, the only permanent man-made structure around, a tall, grand colonial building with an impressive balcony the length of the first floor's face and flags flying high above. Here, there are no steep banks on which to lounge, or grandstands to watch from on high: it's perfectly levelled, for players and spectators, and utterly tranquil. The seclusion and solitude provided by those trees mean you'll do well to find a more sedate setting to watch cricket.

Molyneux Park, Alexandra There was a temptation, here, to head far, far south to Invercargill, New Zealand's southernmost city. In recent times, regional cricket was stripped from Molyneux Park and sent to Queen's Park in Invercargill, because it had a better playing surface. Indeed, Queen's Park itself is a wonderful place for a wander, and Invercargill is a beautiful city, full of stunning imperial architecture, including the historic water tower, built in 1889, which is visible from the square. Better track and fine town maybe, but the pavilion at Queen's Park is a blot on the landscape and the ground just simply isn't that great. The weather can be as Scottish as the city's name - in summer, that too.

Instead, we're back to Molyneux Park in tiny Alexandra, somewhere between Christchurch and Dunedin. This place doesn't have the organic advantages others on this list boast but we're here for its sheer straightforward verdant loveliness. Lying landlocked, it doesn't have the natural fillip of lying a stone's throw from a river, a lake or the sea, and it isn't even particularly out of the ordinary. It's just a beautiful green bowl of a ground. It has lush banks steep enough to roll down but, equally, gentle enough not to disturb your deck chair, thermos and picnic. It is ringed by trees of every shade of green imaginable. Good news, too: Molyneux Park has top-level cricket back after the supreme salvage mission undertaken on the pitch by its curators.

Bert Sutcliffe Oval: tranquil and unblemished © Martin Hunter-IDI

Queenstown Events Centre, Queenstown Save the best until last, that's what Mum always said. You'd be surprised if the folk at Tourism New Zealand weren't a touch peeved when Queenstown was left off the World Cup roster. Queenstown is a veritable magnet for tourists; it's a jaw-droppingly beautiful little town sat on a perfect blue lake against the backdrop of dramatic Alpine scenery, the "adventure capital of the world", the home of the bungee jump, and a party town to boot (as the England rugby team discovered to their peril during the 2011 rugby World Cup).

Cliché, sure, but Queenstown has something for everyone. Any right-minded World Cup visitor will find time to stop off, because Queenstown boasts one of the great cricket grounds - not just in New Zealand but anywhere on earth.

Sadly that ground has one of the worst names going around: Queenstown Events Centre. One hopes that's not why Saxton Oval (in Nelson) got the World Cup gig instead, but you could hardly blame the powers that be if it was. Fortunately, its name is the only ugly thing about the Queenstown Events Centre.

Sure, the pavilion isn't one of the game's great beauties and some won't appreciate the presence of an airport metres away. But, for me at least, both these man-made additions only heighten the experience. Unlike at Lord's, the Grange in Edinburgh, the Parks at Oxford, or even Bert Sutcliffe Oval, there's no temptation to waste time looking at a wonderful pavilion; the eyes are drawn to the finer things in life, which are abundant.

It's a tricky picture to paint: the idyllic Remarkables mountain range, fine ski fields in winter, tower on three sides over the field, a flawless bowl cut out of low farmland in the foothills, with lovely Lake Wakatipu sprawled out in front, completing the square. Now imagine you're sat on gently sloped green banks and throw those aeroplanes - both tiny ones with propellers and fat, commercial carriers, taking off about as close as is safe, against the backdrop of the ranges - onto the canvas: what should be an eye- and ear sore only serves to heighten a truly breathtaking experience. This is a queen among cricket grounds. Will somebody, please, please just rename it the Remarkables Cricket Ground? It's just that.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • alexander on January 12, 2015, 8:15 GMT

    the pic looks like a scene out of lord of the rings trilogy, absolutely marvellous. I now know why they didnt host matches there. People would be busy admiring the beauty than the match being played there.

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2014, 18:58 GMT

    Thanks Will Macpherson for sharing your thoughts about some of the most beautiful cricket grounds in New Zealand, which we are going to miss during the World Cup. Most surely Queenstown Event Centre ,Bay oval and Basin Reserve among them! All the cricket grounds in New Zealand (except Eden Park) are beautiful and scenic! Hope Auckland can create a another stunningly beautiful boutique cricket ground in Western Springs!

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