Eden Park started life as a cricket ground but has been defined by another sport. Since the 1920s, the stadium has been Auckland's major rugby venue, and the development of the stadium has reflected this. Statues ring the stadium, depicting famous Auckland rugby players and triumphant oval-ball moments. Grandstands and seating areas have been periodically upgraded, most recently ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. As a result, Eden Park now seats 50,000, a tally that has probably never been reached at a cricket match in New Zealand. This is likely to change when New Zealand host Australia here during the World Cup.
The All Blacks treat Eden Park as their fortress, and have not lost a rugby match there in 20 years. Alas, New Zealand's cricketers cannot claim the same record. It took ten years between 1976 and 1986 for New Zealand to lose their first ODI here, but since that winning streak, there have been few such golden periods. It was also where New Zealand recorded their first Test win in 1956, in a match notable for the contribution of Garry Sobers: two runs and no wickets.
Eden Park was once little more than swampland. Having been drained by 1914, it paved the way to the two grounds used today, the main oval and the outer oval. The "Eden" in the name refers to the nearby Mount Eden, a commanding hill from which most of Auckland city can be surveyed; it is also the name of the suburb around the foot of the hill. The stadium itself is located in the suburb of Kingsland, just to the west of Mount Eden.
With comparatively scant history, Eden Park has taken on strange dimensions as a cricket ground. Short boundaries down the ground with long boundaries square make it an excellent field on which to play straight. The pitch runs along where the halfway line would be on the rugby field, making it roughly even for left- and right-hand batsmen. The pitch also reflects the dual-use nature of the stadium, with a drop-in wicket being used every summer. Grass is grown for the stadium in Karaka, a semi-rural area just south of Auckland. The pitches tend to be reasonably flat and, coupled with the shorter boundaries, ODI matches at Eden Park can evolve into runfests. A team batting first would be unlikely to feel safe with anything less than 270 in an ODI.
New Zealand v Australia, World Cup, 1st match, February 1992
The game that ignited the summer of cricket for New Zealand, a summer that is still talked about as one of the best in living memory. New Zealand began their World Cup campaign with an upset win over Australia, thanks to a century from batting talisman Martin Crowe, and their arsenal of typically modest medium-pace bowlers. This match is a defining example of the typical New Zealand style of ODI cricket: Gutsy batting, backed up with miserly, though apparently unthreatening, slow bowling, reinforced by athletic and hustling fielding.
New Zealand v Pakistan, 4th ODI, March 1994
A strange match, dominated by two nation-defining bowler types. Gavin Larsen bowled gentle but devastatingly accurate medium pace, taking figures of 4 for 24 and helping to dismiss Pakistan for 161. However, the ferocious Waqar Younis turned the game on its head with figures of 6 for 30, picking up the final wicket of the game in the 50th over. New Zealand's score when Richard de Groen was adjudged lbw for the tenth wicket? 161.
Eden Park, or more specifically the Eden Park Outer Oval, is the home ground of Auckland. Generally, Auckland play on a field tucked in behind one of the grandstands, on the Kingsland side of the stadium. Average crowd numbers for cricket in New Zealand being what they are, there is no justification for opening up the larger stadium for domestic matches.
Auckland have a reasonable record in recent years, particularly in limited-overs competitions. They have won the T20 HRV Cup three times since 2006, and qualified twice for the Champions League T20. Auckland also have a good record in the ODI competition, last winning in 2011-12. Their recent record in first-class cricket is less successful, having not won the competition since 2008-09.
Alex Braae is an Auckland-based writer who bowls sneaky inswingers. @awbraae