The cricket in Dunedin is all well and good, but the après-cricket is the best in the country. Post-stumps nightlife is focused on The Octagon, an eight-sided pedestrian reserve, encircled by pubs, bars and restaurants. The hardy and the late drink and dine al fresco. It's notoriously good. After a recent combined Alternative Commentary Collective/Beige Brigade training session we landed at Pequeno, and deemed it the best bar in Otago for a number of reasons. But that's another story for another article.


Dunedin claims a special spot in New Zealand cricket history: the country's inaugural first-class match took place at the South Dunedin Recreation Ground from January 27 to 29 in 1864. The Otago Daily Times reported: "The first Inter-provincial Match in New Zealand will be commenced today, on the ground of the Dunedin Club, at the Recreation Ground. A capital game is expected; and it will be watched with much interest."

Appropriately, the match was teed up by a local publican and theatre owner, Dr Shadrach Jones. An entrepreneurial bloke, he invited touring troupes to the city to perform opera or sing. He decided cricket should come too, and the Dunedin Cricketing Festival was born.

For the record, Otago won by 76 runs, with local knowledge of the boggy surface and cattle-trampled pitch playing into the home team's hands.


Most major cricketing activity has played out at Carisbrook, often referenced as the "House of Pain" and revered in rugby union circles. It sat at the entrance to a steep valley, amidst an industrial wasteland of railway industry. One cricket writer acerbically compared its aesthetics to that of a rundown Polish shipyard.

Built in the 1870s, it was first used for international cricket in 1883-84, when Otago hosted a team from Tasmania - and what a game it was. Another shocker in heavy conditions apparently - appropriate, given the ground was once a swamp.

Tasmania won the toss and soon regretted the decision to bat: they were all out for 40 from 32 overs. Otago responded with 65 all out from 40 overs, including a 41* from Len Harris. Tasmania collapsed again to be all out for 47 in their second dig (from an excruciating 55.1 overs) and Otago ended on 24 for 2 to win by eight wickets.

Over the ensuing 128 years, the thwack of leather on willow was a familiar summer sound at The Brook.

Locals will tell you it was "full of charm" with a climate similar to Ibiza, but to those without rose-coloured spectacles it remained a primitive place, best suited to southern men and those with thick skins and thick jerseys.

I never made it to the terraces there but the tales are legendary. Commentators speak of the four Fs: fights, fires and full frontal nudity. Matches were stopped several times when smoke billowed across the field of play as couches burned and joy overflowed.

As Whangarei grocer Bryan Young batted for 10 hours in March 1997 on his way to 267 not out, restless students and rural folk procured a billiards table and began playing pool on the terraces. From what I remember, it was hard to keep that field of play even on the gravel steps.

Staggeringly, Young was on Carisbrook for every single ball of play in that Test match.


Primitivism has its limits, and Carisbrook hung up its boots in 2011. Demolition began in 2013 after a couple of noteworthy fundraisers: one was an auction of memorabilia and park equipment via online marketplace Trade Me, and the other was a Tear Up the Turf event where you could fang around and cut the playing surface to shreds in the vehicle of your choice if you paid 50 bucks.

In truth, the House of Pain's days had been numbered for a while. The final cricket international was played in an icy wind in February 2004, 24 hours late. Ah yes, the halcyon days of rain days in the schedule.

Hamish Marshall was the rock on that brute of a day, patiently compiling 74 from 94 balls. The deranged wildebeest of the South African attack, Andre Nel, bowled horribly and was described as "distributing presents as if he were Santa Claus on speed" in the ESPNcricinfo report.


Rugby at the Brook was replaced by rugby at the Forsyth Barr Stadium, a super-flash $224m set-up with a roof, and plastic perches for 30,748 bums. Cricket was relocated up Butts Road next door at the University Oval, a quirkily shaped slice of cricket heaven with room for 6000.

Quirkily shaped because the former art gallery on the site - built for the 1925 New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition - had to be chopped up and moved to keep the ICC fish-heads (and Daniel Vettori) onside.

Primitivism hasn't extended its tentacles here. Yet. It boasts of an almost all-encompassing grass embankment, nestled between tall trees and the Logan Point Quarry ("supplier of quality aggregates").

Groundsman Tom Tamati has wrestled with some demons in the pitch, but things have settled down now: the boundaries have been extended and the drainage has been improved.

The most memorable contest played here was in 2009, when Shane Bond played his final Test, and claimed a match-winning match aggregate of 48.5-9-153-8. Pakistan lost but contributed a massive amount to an incredible palpitation-inducing Test that had more twists and turns than the coastal roads of Kintyre. Even the much-journeyed Sambit Bal described it as "the perfect Test": "Dunedin provided almost everything. The drama. The twists. The contest between bat and ball. Swing and seam and pace. Stirring batting. Wickets falling in a heap and then the batsmen fighting back."

The Oval is good off the field too. The last time I made it there, my mate asked: "Aren't you allowed to bring booze in?" "Not really," said the pragmatic chap searching bags. "But you do pay a lot for drinks in there, so we're not going to be stupid about it." Welcome to Dunedin, cricket utopia.

Let's hope that Dunedin's little sliver of New Caledonia makes it past the ICC's soul-destroying food-and-beverage licensing arrangements to the World Cup games. Cricket at the Oval just wouldn't be the same without the man called Noumea's world-famous pineapple bread.

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