Cricket in the people's park

Marc Swain-Rogatski
Cricket in Christchurch writes a new chapter with the Hagley Oval

Opening day at Hagley Oval. The fruition of courtroom battles, protestors, planning and consent, examinations and approvals. After the loss of a beloved stadium, international cricket is set to make its comeback in Christchurch, just in time for the grand stage of World Cup 2015.

Hagley Park is Christchurch's pride and joy. Its central position feels open and inviting. It is home to different forms of sport and cultural events, dog walkers and cyclists, besides a golf course, tennis and netball courts and various recreation clubs.

Christchurch's main avenues and the famous Avon river run through and around the tranquil park. Magnificent pink blossom trees border the park during spring. The breathtaking Botanic Gardens - a tourist magnet, where one can spend a large part of the day wandering the pathways viewing trees, flowers and foliage from around the globe - are included within the park's borders, with the Canterbury Museum next to its entrance. Christ's College and Christchurch Hospital are close by. The 165-odd hectares are divided into South and North areas and a smaller area to the North is named Little Hagley Park. The cricket oval is located in South Hagley Park.

Hagley Park: Christchurch's pride and joy © Getty Images

Cricket has been played on the ground for a number of years, with the first match dating back to 1864.

There is nothing more beautiful than seeing several games of club cricket being played across the fields in the scenic setting, players in their crisp whites, as the soul-warming summer sun rises over the city to heat the day.

The last international cricket match to be played in Christchurch was in January 2011 against Pakistan, with the visitors winning comfortably. The game was played at AMI Stadium, formerly known as Lancaster Park, which was the main sports stadium in Christchurch for many years. In February 2011, Christchurch changed forever as devastating earthquakes struck, shaking the city to its core. Homes and key infrastructure were damaged, and lives thrown out of gear, as was the stadium.

Lee Germon, former New Zealand captain and now the chief executive of the Canterbury Cricket Association, has been the key in repurposing Hagley Park as the new home for international cricket. Even before the earthquakes, Germon wanted to have the ground's facilities upgraded.

Germon and Canterbury Cricket's plans had to be passed through the environment court, and were finally approved in August last year, with certain stipulations. Games that will draw large crowds can only be played a certain number of days per year, and the lights are retractable to nullify any potential imposition on the park. The consent ensures the World Cup games will go off without a hitch.

A rugby match at Hagley Oval © Getty Images

Other campaigners for the ground have been Sir Richard Hadlee, who backed the ground in court, noting that the city was in desperate need of a new cricket venue. Former New Zealand players Chris Harris and Rod Latham also joined in, giving their seal of approval for the new facilities, and they seem just as ready as the players to kick off proceedings.

A group campaigning against the construction of the new facilities argued that the entire park should be available for everyone, all the time, and opposed the sale of any part as a private asset. Looking at the finished product, the picturesque ground is anything but intrusive.

The new ground is built on the footprint of the original cricket oval and planned changes will not make the new additions look alien to the park as a whole. The setting of lush green outfields with surrounding trees, right in the heart of the city, is hard to argue with. Viewers will get an excellent feel of the garden city. Cricket has always been played at the ground, and the stadium takes up only a small percentage of the entire park.

Take a boat down River Avon © Getty Images

Hagley Oval will see a Boxing Day Test where the Black Caps will play Sri Lanka - the first time New Zealand has had a Boxing Day fixture in 11 years - and also for the first time in the South Island. The same teams will square off again on January 11. By the time their World Cup encounter rolls around, the two teams, and the pitch, will be battle-ready.

The games are all in a perfect time of summer, and Cantabrians will surely sell out the ground quickly. The ground will hold 20,000 happy punters at full capacity, and the planned white picket fence around the boundary will make for a truly village cricket setting.

The ground will feature three matches, and Christchurch also has the honour of hosting the opening ceremony. The games hosted in Christchurch will not only be great for the cricketing world, they will be a sign of the resilience of the Canterbury spirit.

Marc Swain-Rogatski is a Christchurch-based writer. He is a lover of all things sport, with his number one passion being cricket

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