Cricket in Auckland is fixated on a patch of concrete and grass that was once a quagmire called Cabbage Tree Swamp. In winter, it used to become a lake. It is a patch that has become iconic for sport, but in particular for New Zealand's most serious pastime, rugby.

It's a cliché to call it a religion here, but rugby's oval ball casts a long All Black shadow across New Zealand sport in general and Auckland and Eden Park in particular. Cabbage Tree Swamp is the place where David Kirk (1987) and then Richie "McAwesome" McCaw (2011) lifted the Rugby World Cup.

That swamp - now called Eden Park - is in Kingsland, just 3km or so from the CBD of New Zealand's largest city. It is the home of cricket in Auckland, having been purchased by the Auckland Cricket Association in 1911. The ACA bought it from the fledgling Kingsland Cricket Club, which had been chasing red leather there since 1903. In 1912, the Auckland Rugby Union got on board the Eden Park bandwagon and began chasing brown leather in the drained swamp in the winter of 1913.

Over the years, the Concrete Garden has hosted some of the most important moments in New Zealand cricket, including the "all out for 26" shenanigans of 1955, the 1992 World Cup semi-final loss to Pakistan that dashed a nation's hopes, and the beige gear and facial hair extravaganza that was the first international T20 match: Ricky Ponting v New Zealand.


A visit to Eden Park is not complete without a wander around the picturesque Eden Park Outer Oval ("The Number 2" or EPOO). The quaint field behind the West Stand has played home to a number of first-class matches, including ones against touring teams like Pakistan and West Indies. Lou Vincent, Aaron Barnes, Kyle Mills and Aravinda de Silva have signed a million autographs for kids here, and I remember the Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar, playing backyard cricket enthusiastically behind the boundary rope too.

EPOO has a lot to answer for: This is where James Anderson's renaissance began back in 2008. An audacious request from England bowling coach Ottis Gibson was generously approved by Auckland Cricket and Anderson took 2 for 95 off 38 overs for Auckland. Wellington plundered 524 and won by an innings, but Anderson did enough to make the England XI for the next two Tests and New Zealand lost the series 2-1. Sigh.


There is much more to cricket in Auckland than just the Concrete Garden of Eden and its environs, though. As with the rest of New Zealand, cricket is played by most Aucklanders in hallways and backyards - and on barren wastelands and picturesque grounds too. There are fierce club rivalries. If you want to check out some of the interesting cricket spots, here are four recommendations:

Encircled by London plane trees and beneath the busiest motorway in New Zealand, Victoria Park is a stone's throw from the Waitemata Harbour (albeit a throw by Richard Percival) and an easy stagger from a number of central city watering holes. Its green openness belies a dodgy past. A century or so ago, Vic Park was neighbour to a gasworks, a rubbish incinerator, an abattoir, a foundry, a tannery, fish processing plants, and an oil storage facility. Its original soil was soiled too: the ground was created using builders' spoil from construction sites throughout the city. For more than 150 years, it has been the home of Grafton United Cricket Club, one of the nation's biggest and wrinkliest cricket establishments. Notable alumni include Mark Burgess, Phil Horne, Matt Horne, Willie Watson, Lou Vincent and Andre Adams. Herald reporter and occasional ESPNcricinfo writer Andrew Alderson is also a Grafton alumnus, and allegedly remains one of a select group of bowlers to be hit over Victoria Park's four-lane motorway flyover.

Victoria Park is also the subject of a campaign by the Beige Brigade and others who are foaming at the mouth for it to become the home of Test cricket in Auckland. Cricket voyeur and part-time commentator Jeremy Wells sums up the nub of this argument: "Auckland has the unique opportunity to create the most centrally located Test venue in the world. Three out of the five playing days fall during the working week, so if you want lunchtime or post-work crowds surely you'd play the game somewhere the majority of people work?"

Cornwall Park is home to the Cornwall Cricket Club. It wasn't ever a swamp but it was once an olive grove. It is on the slopes of Auckland's most famous elevation, One Tree Hill (referenced in the eponymous U2 song, inspired by Kiwi Greg Carroll). Cornwall Park is about as English as Kiwi cricket gets, despite its claim that it is the largest cricket club in Australasia. Its wood-panelled pavilion has starred in TV ads and hosted some of New Zealand's most excellent cricketers, including the Crowe brothers, Mark Greatbatch, Graham Vivian and Aaron Redmond's father Rodney. Cornwall Park has played its part in cricket innovation: Auckland's most famous son, Martin Crowe, introduced the world to his three-hour variation that spawned T20 cricket. As Crowe himself said at the time: "Kerry Packer sure did change the game back in the '70s, but now it's time for Cricket Max to take the excitement of cricket through to the next century. Join us for the first game of Cricket Max on February 5, 1996."

A 12-minute ferry ride from the Auckland CBD across the Waitemata Harbour will land you in Devonport, a posh old suburb of Auckland's North Shore. Devvy has an illustrious history as the crucible of New Zealand sport: indeed, the first cricket club in New Zealand was established in Devonport, along with the first football club, rugby league club and rowing club. These days, as well as purple rinses, a naval base, excellent cappuccinos and a million European cars, it is also home to the Devonport Domain. This peach of a ground is nestled between a couple of extinct volcanoes, North Head and Mt Victoria. Like Eden Park, it too has a damp past: The Domain was originally a mangrove swamp. It is home to the North Shore Cricket Club, where men like Jack Cowie, Hedley Howarth, Barry Sinclair, Martin Snedden, and even "Mr Maximum", Danny Morrison, plied their cricketing trade on Saturday afternoons.

The fourth spot is hardest to get to and less readily available for public access. It is on Waiheke Island, 40 minutes across the Hauraki Gulf from Auckland central. On the island, in beautiful Pie Melon Bay, is a magnificent home overlooking the ocean - and between the residence and the beach is an artificial pitch, which has been exposed to the wrath of fine players from around the Kiwi cricketing milieu. The pitch, the house, and much of the bay belong to Kiwi businessman, philanthropist and sports fan Bruce Plested, a founder of the Mainfreight freight company. It's a tough venue to weave into your cricket itinerary, but a pretty extraordinary place to be if there is a game on.

Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. @beigebrigade