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From the old-school charms of Wellington's ground to the big-city vibe of Auckland
March 28, 2013
Early start. Red-eye flight. Breakfast at Wellington airport. Touring is all glamour.
Get a first taste of how quickly the weather can change in this city when fog envelops the airport, forcing a plane from Auckland to turn around mid-flight and a host of others to be delayed. Like most of New Zealand, there is very little flat ground in Wellington. Houses are built into the hillsides and, from a distance, look like cut-out cardboard models.
Meet Tim Jones from the Save the Basin campaign. They have huge concerns about the flyover that is set to skirt just north of the ground. Their campaign appears unlikely to stop the development, although they hope to delay construction until the next general election to see if a change in government can bring a rethink. While an elevated road running past one of the world's iconic grounds is far from ideal, at least the venue itself will remain largely untouched.
There is a monument inside the Basin dedicated to the founder of Wellington, the William Wakefield Memorial, and it has an interesting history. It began its life inside the ground, then was moved outside the boundary, only to fall into disrepair. In 2006 it was brought back inside the venue. Wakefield originally came from Essex. Is that a good sign for Alastair Cook?
The Basin really is quite a unique ground. Not only is it based in the middle of a roundabout, it also acts as a public footpath. While there watching the teams train, a variety of people wander past, on their daily routines: mothers pushing prams, skateboarders whizzing past, business people on mobile phones. For a city with a fairly small population - around 400,000 - Wellington is notable for having two international cricket grounds. The Westpac Stadium, where the T20 international was held earlier in the tour, is across town. It is a shame that all matches can't be played at the Basin, but commercial interests mean the floodlights and greater capacity of the Westpac take precedence. Thankfully, though, Test matches look set to stay at the Basin. For the near future, at least.
However, one area of the ground will be off limits during the Test. The upper levels of the Museum Stand have been ruled an earthquake risk. Built in 1924, the ageing structure does not conform to new stringent levels of safety. Its future, whether it will be updated or demolished, is still being discussed.
This Test is being used to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1973 New Zealand tour to England. It was a watershed trip for them, where they almost chased down 479 at Trent Bridge. All surviving members of the side, except Richard Hadlee and Rodney Redmond, are present in Wellington.
Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, here in his commentary role, has an interesting start to the day. He goes for a morning cycle ride and picks up a puncture, without a repair kit or his mobile phone with him. He starts thumbing for a lift and fortunately a friendly farmer comes to his aid and gives him a ride back into the city.
The Saturday of the Test. A sell-out at the Basin. It's a terrific sight, with the grass banks full. Have a wonderful conversation with Bev Congdon, the former New Zealand captain, who led on that 1973 tour, where they came close to chasing down 479 at Trent Bridge. The initial idea was to talk to him about that trip, but the chat quickly broadens out into many areas of cricket and life. "For people of my generation, cricket was not a job. It came second. That gave you a perspective," he says. We played it for the enjoyment. They probably played with a little more passion that nowadays. It seems to be that you go through the motions."
On cue, the tail-end of Cyclone Sandra arrives in Wellington to condemn the Test to a watery draw. The drought situation in New Zealand has reached such dangerous levels that the weather forecasters are now signing off their bulletins with "enjoy the rain", with not a hint of sarcasm in their voice. Shame it couldn't have just waited another day.
|If the stumps and bails had behaved as cricketing precedent and Isaac Newton would have expected them to behave, England would have been seven wickets down with 43 overs left|
To Auckland, the City of Sails, which has more yachts per capita than any other city in the world. For the first time on tour, I get that "big-city" feeling. Some people don't like it, but the buzz is welcoming. Take a wander around the harbour, which is lined with millionaire boats. Summer is hanging on too.
The home of New Zealand rugby will, for a few days, be the home of New Zealand cricket. After the traditional venues of Dunedin and Wellington, it feels strange to come back to a stadium. The odd dimensions hit you straight away - I fancy clearing the straight boundaries (after a few attempts). On a heady night in October 2011 the ground was packed to bursting point as Richie McCaw led the All Blacks to the World Cup title. The cricket series has not quite gripped the public imagination in the same way. In New Zealand there is rugby, followed by daylight, then other sports.
Groundsmen have a tough job, and for Mark Perham, who looks after the surface at Eden Park, there is the juggling act of having a dual rugby and cricket ground. It takes three hours to move the drop-in pitch from near the No. 2 Oval into position on the main ground. He says he just produces "good cricket pitches" and doesn't care to hear what people think about them. "You have just got to take it on the chin. I don't listen to any of it. I've got bigger issues."
This should be a grand occasion - a series decider. Yet it feels a little flat. There's a decent crowd, but in a 50,000-seater stadium, swathes of empty grey seats do not make for a great spectacle. Politics gave Eden Park this Test; shame that common sense does not prevail more often. Hamilton or Napier would have been better suited.
Meanwhile, bowling first is becoming the new batting first. Alastair Cook makes it three times in the series the captain winning the toss has put the opposition in. But England don't swing the ball.
Billy Cooper, the Barmy Army trumpeter, begins the day with a collection of James Bond themes in memory of Derek Watkin, who died overnight. Watkin played on every Bond soundtrack. Whatever your view of the Army, Cooper brings a unique flavour to the game, and he is well received by a crowd that has shrunk at the start of the working week.
What a way to finish. A day packed with incident. England look certain to lose, but between Ian Bell and Matt Prior they find a way out. Prior was thankful for some sticky bails, Stuart Broad for the DRS, and Monty Panesar that he didn't start his dive a few inches earlier. "All I remember is thinking that it was an easy single," Prior said. "Turned round, thought Monty would be safe and saw him doing a leopard crawl."
However, the abiding memory of the tour will be Brendon McCullum dragging himself between overs with a bust hamstring. Steve Waugh would have approved. On and off the field, McCullum was magnificent. Hopefully New Zealand can build their future around him.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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