February 20, 2015

It's as if you're in Wellington

Picket fencing. Old wooden benches. Grass banks. It could easily be the Basin Reserve in Wellington... but it's not

The grandstand honours the "most durable and talented spin bowling combination" in Victoria cricket © ESPNcricinfo

Picket fencing. A gravel walking path around the picket fencing. Old wooden benches. Grass banks. A busy road skirting the edge of the ground. Could easily be the Basin Reserve in Wellington. It is the Junction Oval, or the St Kilda Cricket Ground, in Melbourne. Known more as the ground where Shane Warne played club cricket, and also made his first-class debut, the Junction Oval resembles the Basin Reserve in another aspect. In its heritage grandstands.

The building and taking down of stands at grounds tells a story in itself. The old grandstand at the Basin Reserve was built in 1925. Spectators are no longer allowed inside it due to it being considered a potential hazard in the earthquake-prone region. The Vance Stand, which came up in the 1980s, is used instead. A few years later, the disused luncheon area in the old grandstand was turned into the New Zealand Cricket Musuem, which welcomes visitors to this day.

Junction Oval used to have as many as four stands, says Stephen Wain, who has been around at the ground for years and serves as administration manager for St Kilda Cricket Club. Two of them still stand, and a third, smaller, newer pavilion has come up at the straight boundary.

The Blackie-Ironmonger stand reminds you right away of the Basin grandstand. Named after the "most durable and talented spin bowling combination" in Victoria cricket, both of who represented Australia, the stand came up in 1945. High, pillared, corrugated iron roof. Long benches. Red-brick sides. It transports you back in time, and unlike the one at the Basin, is still used. It may not have a national museum, but it does house a collection of the club's memorabilia, as well as the team changing rooms. It also contains a small enclosure for media personnel, though the view is from deep square leg.

The benches will disappear soon to be replaced by seats, says Wain, for as historic as they are, they are not comfortable to sit on. Some leather cushions were helpfully placed on a few for the moment.

The Kevin Murray grandstand, named after the great Australian rules footballer, was shut down after being deemed a fire hazard. The vintage staircases, two pairs of which still take you up Blackie-Ironmonger, were removed from the Kevin Murray stand. It still has the wooden floorboards intact, says Wain.

Two stands were pulled down years ago. One was wooden, and used to be quite popular with fans. But there were a series of fires in the region in the late 1980s, and the authorities were not willing to take any chances. You can never be too careful with smokers in a wooden structure. One cigarette is all it takes, says Wain. "Poof", and the entire thing could have come down.

The fourth stand had something called concrete cancer, explains Wain, saying that chunks of material were falling off. One of them landed on the top of the club president's car. That sealed the stand's fate. A mound full of grass takes its place now.

There is also a giant scoreboard next to the new pavilion. "When it is 35 degrees outside, it feels like 55 degrees inside," says Wain. And when it is cold outside, it is freezing inside. Happens when you are sitting inside a hollow steel structure. The scoreboard was brought to the ground from a racecourse.

The ground's facilities failed to meet first-class standards in recent years, and there was a plea from Warne to the state government to help in upgrading the venue. A newly elected administration promised funds, and Wain says part of the proposed facelift includes a three-storey multi-purpose building in place of the smallest, youngest pavilion. That will be another story then. Blackie-Ironmonger will stay on though. Reminding visitors of the Basin.

Abhishek Purohit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article