Most days the jury is out as to whether Central Otago or the Hawke's Bay is the fruit bowl of New Zealand. But for the 2015 cricket World Cup it is decided the mantle is claimed by the Bay because neither Molyneux Park (Alexandra), Queenstown Events Centre or Anderson Park (Cromwell) made the cut for the big games.

Most cricketing roads in the Hawke's Bay lead to McLean Park. The exceptions include Gordon Road, home of the magnificent Clifton County Cricket Club ("Keep driving along dusty roads and across paddocks until you reach a piece of lush turf surrounded by undulating hillside… and if you get lost, just follow someone else").

McLean Park has been around for more than 100 years, having been created as a 10-acre memorial to a bloke who used to be a VINZGP: a very important New Zealand government person. His name is Don McLean but he never wrote amazing folk songs with cryptic lyrics. Instead he was a Scottish farmer and was the ominously and imperiously named Minister of Native Affairs and Colonial Defence in the 1870s.

Apparently - and weirdly - in the early years, Sir Donald McLean's Park was mainly used by the Highland Society for eccentric and wonderful games like caber tossing, hammer throwing and maide leisg-ing.

Now it is best known as the home of eccentric and wonderful sporting games like rugby and cricket.


McLean Park is the primary home ground for the Central Districts Cricket Association and base camp for the roving Central Stags. It is unusual in that you can see the sea from the park, so if you are watching on TV then expect to see epic montages of the glittering Pacific Ocean through the line of Norfolk pines along the Napier waterfront.

Central Districts is an eclectic region that essentially ring-fences Wellington, and runs the game in Horowhenua Kapiti, Manawatu, Taranaki, Wairarapa and Wanganui in the North Island - and Marlborough and Nelson at the top of the south.

Central Districts legends include the one and only Mathew "Skippy" Sinclair (the bloke responsible for the greatest catch I have ever seen live), who was on the dole but is now training to be a real estate agent in the Bay, and is coaching the local Hawke's Bay provincial team. He has the most appearances for the province, followed by Mike Shrimpton, who went on from first-class cricket to be prominent as the coach of the White Ferns when they won the World Cup back in 2000.

Other household cricketing names who have worn the Central Districts greens and whites many times over the years include Scott Briasco, Michael Mason, Mark Douglas, Glen Sulzberger, Gary Robertson and wicketkeeping stalwart Bevan Griggs. Golf nut and Hastings schoolteacher Stu Duff is also a Central Districts legend - his dulcet tones can often be heard when he parks up atop the Harris Stand at McLean Park to jabber on over the radio airwaves.

And who can forget Cleckheaton's only black-belted wicketkeeper-batsman, Tony "Chill" Blain (an irregular correspondent on the BYC podcast)? His sensible hats with the neck flap are an iconic cricketing memory for watchers of Kiwi cricket in the eighties and nineties.


The deck in Napier is notoriously as flat as a pancake, and most batsmen around the globe would be keen to pack it up and roll it out wherever they were plying their trade. In Tests, John Wright averages 201 there, VVS Laxman 200, BJ Watling 180, Imran Farhat 178 and Jesse Ryder 158. And in ODIs, MS Dhoni averages 124 there, ahead of Virat Kholi on 123 and Ricky Ponting on 107.5.

The Tasmanian devil's magnificent unbeaten 141 (off 127 balls) in an ODI in 2005 was a frighteningly good innings to watch as a local fan - "clean-hitting dominance" that ended the series from hell. It didn't help that the same day Brett Lee unleashed a 99.9 mph thunderbolt and Adam Gilchrist monstered 91 from just 61 balls.


The Park's road maker is Phil Stoyanoff, the Napier groundsman who has also carved out his own little niche in Kiwi cricketing folklore. I've often said there is a lucrative market waiting to happen if someone wants to start making "I Love Phil" t-shirts. Why? Because he's as blunt as a trauma injury, with a delicious turn of phrase:

"Any of this mythical talk about slime outbreak on the wicket, or algae or the fungal attack, is a lot of rubbish."
Phil on rumours of fungus on the pitch for NZ v India in March 2009

"My most endearing memory of Phil is when he turned up to a Saturday game, and Collegians were bowling first. Phil had obviously had a late - very late - Friday night, and it would have been optimistic to say he'd had more than a couple hours sleep. Phil slumped in the dressing shed, unshaven, eyes red-rimmed and with the breath of a brewery. When a team mate half-seriously suggested he wasn't in a fit state to bowl, Phil had the perfect retort: 'Mate - when I'm hungover it makes me bloody angry and I'll take if out on the f***ken opening batsmen.' And he did."
From the now-defunct Cricket Mystery website

"Depending on what the samples say I base my plan of attack for the day around that. I have to think about what roller I'm going to use and if I need to mow."
Phil on NZ v Pakistan, 2009

"Yes, because both sides have such bad batsmen. That's my honest opinion: they're useless."
Phil, when asked whether his wicket would produce a result in the same 2009 series

Stoyanoff has cut an interesting path on the Kiwi cricketing scene. He played one first-class match for NZ Under-23s against Canterbury back in 1980, scoring 4 and taking 0 for 15 from five overs. Fellow first-class debutants in that match included Robbie Hart, Trevor Franklin, Alan Hunt and Rockin' Roddy Latham.

He was also flown to India to prepare the turf at Bangalore's M Chinnaswamy Stadium for an Australia v India series using soil core samples, weather charts and mathematical equations. As he said at the time: "Preparing a pitch is science... We decide based on the data what type of roller to use. It is real artwork, which they don't know about here. They don't regard curators as professions, but we are as important as the cricketers."

I love Phil.

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