March 3, 2014

The best Test ground in Australasia

The honour belongs to the iconic and charming Basin Reserve in Wellington

The Basin: darling of the postcard industry Hamish Blair / © Getty Images

The cricket gods have their favourite players. Among them must be Victor Trumper, Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne. But they must also have their favourite Test match grounds. And Wellington's iconic Basin Reserve is unquestionably a favourite among the cricket gods. Why else would they have conspired to cut the ever-biting Wellington wind to a zephyr and flood the Basin with sunshine for the whole of the recent New Zealand-India Test match? The public were treated to a match of high drama and a sense of inevitable doom for the home side, who, at 94 for 5, were down and out. Then came Brendon McCullum. His record 302, along with the innings of BJ Watling (124) and new chum Jimmy Neesham (137 not out) saved New Zealand's bacon. But the match ended tamely.

We'll recall the heroics of McCullum and Watling and Neesham, but those among us who love the history and tradition of the game of cricket will remember the ground itself best. In 1840 when the first settlers arrived, the ground we know today was covered by water. It was a shallow lagoon, and not until the 1855 earthquake did the ground rise sufficiently for it to become a swamp. In 1863 prisoners were put to good use helping drain the swamp. By 1866, the Basin Reserve became the home of Cricket Wellington.

Situated 2km from the heart of the city, the Basin lies at the foot of Mount Victoria. Government House and Wellington College Boys' School are south of the Basin, across the street mostly hidden behind a stand of majestic old trees. The Basin has the feel of a quaint English ground. There is ample seating under cover, but also a lovely stretch of undulating hill, so the spectators have the best of both worlds.

Before the 1855 Wairarapa earthquake, which uplifted the area by 1.8 metres, the city fathers had plans to connect the lagoon (known as the Basin Lake) to the sea, creating an alternative inner city harbour. The plans included architect's drawings for warehouses and factories running along its edge. My first visit to the ground was with Ian Chappell's side in 1974. In those days the old grandstand doubled as the teams' dressing rooms and luncheon pavilion. It has since been successfully transformed into a museum and is always worth a visit if you're going to the Basin for a day's play. The glorious sunshine and lack of wind at last month's Test was in stark contrast to our game in 1974.

That match, we could have sworn, the wind that blew incessantly all day every day came straight to Wellington from the South Pole. The wicket was a "road" and many runs were scored, including a truckload by the Chappell brothers: Greg Chappell (247 not out and 133) and Ian Chappell (145 and 121). New Zealand did just as well in their only innings of this drawn-out encounter, with Bevan Congdon (132) and Brian Hastings (101) leading the way to 484. Short of an earthquake, we bowlers could have done with a less harsh piece of divine intervention to get something out of that lifeless lump of turf.

Wellington is a thriving little harbour town. Curiously and thankfully there is precious little graffiti to be seen in the downtown area itself, and in and about the docks the people embrace the opportunity to stroll, power-walk, jog and cycle the impressively wide walkways by the water. The Basin reflects the soul of the city. There has long been a spirit of purpose there. Cricket Wellington CEO Peter Clinton says the Basin has retained its history and its charm, and this is true.

There was a time when Adelaide Oval reigned supreme as the best old colonial Test match ground in Australasia. While it has become a better facility for fans, more comfortable, and able to accommodate up to 50,000 spectators, it is now realistically a mini version of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Some say it is better by far; others say it has lost its soul. What it has done is open the flood gates for the Basin Reserve to claim the No. 1 spot as the best boutique, traditional cricket ground in our region.

I found myself at the Basin once again, rubbing shoulders with three of my heroes, Neil Harvey, Alan Davidson and Ian Craig. The Test against India also coincided with a reunion of Martin Crowe's 1992 New Zealand World Cup squad. Crowe has just recovered from serious illness and he was there to see McCullum become the first New Zealander to hit a Test triple-century. A champion batsman who made 17 centuries in 77 Tests, Crowe's highest Test score was his 299 against Sri Lanka at the Basin in 1991.

The Basin was host to a "Fill the Basin" charity event on March 13, 2011. A match was played between a team of legends from Wellington and Canterbury to raise money for the 2011 Christchurch earthquake victims. Shane Warne, Crowe, Richard Hadlee and Stephen Fleming were among the celebrated Test cricketers invited to play. All Blacks stars Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith appeared, along with actors Russell Crowe (Martin's cousin) and Ian McKellen. More than $500,000 was raised towards relief efforts and the 10,000 people who attended represented the biggest crowd at the Basin Reserve in the modern era.

Thanks to financier Sir Ron Brierley; Doug Catley, chairman of the Basin Reserve Trust; Peter Clinton; the board; John Morrison, the former New Zealand batsman and life member at the Basin; and historian Don Neely, this wonderful, unique Test match venue is in safe hands.

Gallery: The Basin in pictures

Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson, Ian Chappell, and most recently of Dr Donald Beard, The Diggers' Doctor

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 6:36 GMT

    The Basin's minders also provide a unique twist when it comes to managing this important asset: crowd involvement. For instance, a footpath completely circles the ground, not behind the stands but in front of them. So anyone wishing to get a different perspective just has to go for a walk and lean on the pickets somewhere else. And during the breaks, the field is open to spectators. You can wander over and have a look at the pitch, opine on its state, and then play your own game of cricket in the middle, and plenty of kids do. These are important privileges, enjoyed in very few test arenas and treasured by the Wellington spectators.

  • VENKATACHALAM on March 4, 2014, 5:23 GMT

    Couldn't agree more about the Basin and its wonderful atmosphere. NZ cricket have done well to keep it exclusively forTests. These sort of grounds will preserve the culture of Tests in New Zealand.

  • Tim on March 4, 2014, 1:01 GMT

    @pietime: the building NZTA is proposing to put up to partly screen the playing surface from the proposed flyover isn't a stand - it would have no spectator seating (there might be seating for players, families and guests). And a number of cricket witnesses, including Martin Snedden and Sir John Anderson, have provided evidence to the Basin flyover hearing to say that it's essential the flyover is not visible from the playing surface - something the new "Northern Gateway Building" will not fully achieve. Meanwhile, nothing is being done to fix the Museum Stand. A number of cricket witnesses still to be heard as the Basin flyover inquiry are concerned the flyover, if built, may result in the Basin losing its Test status.

  • Vinod on March 4, 2014, 0:06 GMT

    Wellington's a lovely place, the ground picturesque.....gr8 place to enjoy a day out provided its sunny and not v the picket fence and the metal coin like engravings which has NZ's high scorers and wicketakers from the 1st class games, the bandstand is a nice touch, the grassy embankments are nice. to 'look - ma- i am whatever'.....dude with that corny a user name u gotta be the founder member of 'the lets bag india brigade'....and u've done ur bit by stirring up this blog as well as several others of your type do on other blogs.

  • irfan on March 3, 2014, 21:11 GMT

    just by looking at it it relaxes you , exactly what criket was meant for.. awesome ground ...

  • Pete on March 3, 2014, 18:59 GMT

    The Basin is a nice concept - a tiny ground in a city that could have a bigger one. It's definitely an un-Australian approach; Adelaide was the exception that proved the rule, in that it was Adelaide's way of standing out nationally and internationally. The concept of a mini MCG isn't a bad one, either; if you can fill it on the first day of a test and get decent crowds for the rest, the atmosphere is worth the lesser charm of the stands (plus being a serious venue for Australian football and 'events' brings out its potential all year).

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2014, 18:58 GMT

    A few years ago when time permitted holidays, emerged from the airport tunnel that runs under Mt Victoria, the shuttle circled the Basin Reserve and dropped me at a hostel in the hills beneath said mountain. A short walk to visit Basin Reserve was a must and from the city looking south, with mountains to the left and right, the ground's scenery and ambience is unforgettable.

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2014, 16:11 GMT

    Basin reserve is one of the best grounds just for the reason that it is pretty spectator friendly. On top of that it is picturesque as well. No doubt about that. Coming to point of some commenting about Indians being flat rack bullies. If Indians are flat track bullies it is on the same pitch other teams are floundering. Nowadays every team is good at home. Clarke's team is on a high now but we should remember they lost 2 series in England and one in India(4-0). They too had lost close to 10. England won in India and lost miserably in Australia and to Pak in Dubai. SA won in Aus a couple of years ago and are right ow in a situation to lose at home and also lost to Pak in Dubai.No team is great like the Waugh's Aussies and Clive Llyods Windies. They were invincible. You want to see top class cricket from every country stop Playing T20 leagues more often.

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2014, 14:14 GMT

    By the way, good work dealing with the Indian troll everyone! Whether it is in the comments section of cricinfo, the pitches of South Africa and NZ, or versus Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the Asia Cup.... karma and fiercely motivated opposition will make India regret this Big 3 crap and they will need to look up the definition of 'victory' in the not too distant future. Pull the plug India, or, doctoring the rankings not withstanding, you will start to plummet. I haven't seen a more karmatic or make-your-bed-and-lie-in-it situation like this (so cut and dry and obvious) since I began following sport. When Kohli over-celebrated that ninth wicket, I was not surprised that Afridi ended them three balls later.... Kohli, Dhoni and India, you need to understand, even a victory (especially a victory) must be greeted with shame, not joy. For you are always undeserving. End the Big 3. It is only a BIG1 anyway.

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2014, 14:05 GMT

    Hey look-ma-i'm-a-dunce..... Firstly, there are no cages surrounding the basin, no smog, no pollution, no ring of police and lack of soft, green banks and people in their deck chairs or bean bags with books and food and drink in their chilly bins like you would get in Wellington at the basin Reserve. Secondly, the ground is circular, used only for cricket - never rugby - and so the boundaries are 70-75m all the way around. Knowing nothing is fine and we expect this of the average, fanatical Indian, suffering as they are on the back of flat-track bully wins at home followed by one of the most epic sequences of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back whoopings away EVER!! Broken only by a win over Bangladesh, just before they lost to Afghanistan. I warned you as this whole BCCI and the Big 3 and the greed situation began, this would not end well for you, UNLESS you end the big 3. As you were then....

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