May 23, 2001

Rugby comes to cricket's aid for a change

WestpacTrust Park in Hamilton will become an even brighter jewel in the New Zealand cricket crown next summer, thanks to the needs of the Waikato rugby team.

Heavy delays to the re-development of Rugby Park in Hamilton - caused by the delay in the arrival of very necessary steelwork - have meant the Waikato Rugby Union must look for another venue or venues for its five home NPC matches against Counties-Manukau, Wellington, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty and Otago in August-September.

Yesterday a meeting of the Waikato stadium trust, which administers the development of both WestpacTrust Park and Rugby Park, gave the WRU permission to play on WestpacTrust.

John Turkington, the Northern Districts cricket chief executive and a member of the stadium trust, said the dual use of WestpacTrust Park would be of great benefit to both sports.

"We are now going through the resource consent process toward installing floodlights at WestpacTrust Park. There has been one objection, which is not unsurmountable.

"If consent is obtained the lights could be up in time for the first rugby match on August 24.

"Floodlighting would make WestpacTrust an ideal venue for day-night matches, one-dayers or tests, from next summer onward.

"The planned lights will be on four towers and will produce the best day-night cricket viewing in New Zealand.

"In England they work on a basis of 1250 lux as satisfactory for cricket. Carisbrook are, we think, about 2000 lux, while the new lights at WestpacTrust are designed to give us about 2810 lux," said Turkington.

The park groundstaff were confident that winter sporting traffic would not damage WestpacTrust's reputation of being one of the best cricketing surfaces in New Zealand.

"The last rugby match is scheduled for September 29, and the provisional Shell Trophy draw has the first match at WestpacTrust starting on November 29," said Turkington.

"The ground staff are confident there will not be a problem getting the ground ready for cricket in the nine-week gap after rugby finishes."

Other improvements at WestpacTrust, such as increasing spectator amenities and developing practice facilities would be fitted into the new programme.

Turkington said the stadium trust had much of the funding already in place, as the trust had received strong backing from the Hamilton City Council, Trust Waikato, the Lotteries Board and other community interests in the Waikato area.

The building of new terrace spectator areas at WestpacTrust - using fill from the re-shaping of Rugby Park - last summer gave the park more spectator-room, without detracting from its traditional tree-and-grass tranquillity.

Now the addition of more seating, and floodlights, must promote WestpacTrust higher in the New Zealand Cricket scheme of things.

There was additional impetus for greater use of grounds such as WestpacTrust yesterday from Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain, playing the English season with Middlesex.

In the latest of his regular columns on CricInfo, Fleming commented on England's sweeping defeat of Pakistan in the first Test at Lord's last weekend - when the England seam bowlers Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough demolished the Pakistan batting - as the classic case of a home team prospering on a pitch designed to aid the home bowlers.

In the sub-continent, wrote Fleming, you expected dry pitches that gave spinners a lot of help. In Australia they prepared pitches that gave bounce and pace, and suited their style of fast-medium bowlers and wrist-spinners.

England and New Zealand, said Fleming, should be ideal for the preparation of pitches that had some pace, and assisted the seam bowlers.

This was the case when New Zealand thrashed Pakistan at WestpacTrust Park in the third Test last summer, after New Zealand lost the first Test on an experimental "drop-in" pitch in the first Test at Eden Park, and played a tiresome draw in the second at Jade Stadium.

The WestpacTrust pitch at Hamilton, said Fleming, was ideal for New Zealand purposes.

He cited Carisbrook as another pitch which suited the New Zealand style of game, and said New Zealand should play more often on such grounds that favoured them, and not take the risk of experimenting with "drop-in" pitches.

With WestpacTrust Park moving up to the front line of New Zealand international venues, Fleming may have his wish granted sooner than he might have expected.