July 6, 2001

Rugby shows no sign of letting up in season encroachment

Cricket administrators may be worried that the major rugby season in New Zealand is now stretching from late February to early November -- perhaps squeezing cricket out of its traditional share of grounds that cater for the two sports.

This year the national rugby championship will go into the first week of November.

One scenario for next winter has rugby starting with the usual Super 12 from mid-or late-February, a longer mid-season period for international matches and the consequent stretching of the NPC into mid-November.

This would cause, at least at Eden Park, something of a log-jam with both sports competing for playing and/or training facilities.

Lindsay Crocker, the Auckland Cricket Association chief executive, is aware of the problems -- but he wants to regard them as challenges, and not necessarily as yet another case of big-brother rugby competing for the big prizes, and shoving little-brother cricket out of the way.

"We feel it is our job to react to these problems, and we are," said Crocker yesterday.

"It is probably a fact of life that rugby is making more demands on the playing fields. That is happening at Eden Park, and at other grounds round the country. "We must accept that as a challenge.

"In fact, when these problems have risen at Eden Park before cricket has been the body that suggested the possible solutions. We have been the dynamic, the major impetus."

Crocker said that cricket had led the way to developing the portable pitch, and was taking a leading part in the possible re-development of the Eden Park outer oval to make it suitable for international cricket.

The main action would be to shift the southern boundary ( and with it the grandstand and indoor school ) back into the car-park to give a longer straight boundary. More spectator seating and amenities would also be required. The eventual follow-on to that would be to have test matches on the outer oval and one-day internationals on the main field.

"We are working through the Eden Park board of control in this direction," said Crocker.

"We regard the matter as being urgent, we would like to think we should be close to the target in a couple of years, but we still have to find out whether the up-grading of the outer oval is physically and financially practicable."

In the meantime, the ACA is ear-marking grounds for possible use during the Youth World Cup tournament to be held in New Zealand in January-February. One new ground which could come into service for that World Cup event is the expansive field at the North Harbour stadium, which will be used by the ACA next summer.

The pitch has been laid, sand-slit drains installed (regarded as better than those on Eden Park No 1) and the North Harbour field may soon join Eden Park, Cornwall Park and University Park, as the big-match centres in Auckland.

These should serve Auckland well until rugby takes the ultimate step, cancels summer and turns its sport into a 12-month enterprise.