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Heaven for cricket aficionados

It's where Dan Vettori came from, but there's much more to Hamilton, including 100-grand heroes and malicious rain

Paul Ford
The spectators soak up the sun at Seddon Park, New Zealand v West Indies, 2nd Twenty20, Hamilton, December 28, 2008

Seddon Park is a picnic lover's heaven, thanks to its monstrous grass embankment  •  Getty Images

I reckon a 75-inch librarian from my alma mater has played a massive part in Hamilton becoming a cricket town, complementing its inhabitants' strong addiction to rugby. Daniel Vettori was thrust into the international cricketing limelight in 1996 as a wonderfully awkward 18-year-old and the whole city wanted him to do well.
He was a staggering selection at the time, and his career has been followed obsessively by many locals over the past two decades. It's fair to say that he has not let them down: an unblemished record of success and humility. It seems Daniel Luca Vettori has written his chapter in the book of perfect Kiwi folklore without even a typo so far.
Hamilton is not only the home of Vettori and Ross Taylor, it is also the home of the 100-grand heroes. Last summer, a beer company competition promised that anyone in the crowd who reined in a one-handed catch wearing a specific t-shirt and official lanyard would collect NZ$100,000. Lightning struck twice in Hamilton, despite there being ten other matches around the country where the dosh was on offer. I particularly loved the winners' low-key approach to the monstrous prizes: Michael Morton (catcher #1, off the bat of Kieran Powell) reckoned he'd pay off his student loan, while Jatinder Singh (catcher #2, courtesy Corey Anderson) said he was going to buy a ute to replace his old Nissan Sunny.
First-class and international cricket in this city is played on a perfect, dedicated, built-for-purpose oval, marked out by a perfect white picket fence. The wire-netting fence is almost entirely covered by hedges and trees - and they've now fixed that notorious clandestine access point in the shrubs near the old scoreboard.
The grandstand is tiny. Parking is a doddle, and it is a short, flat walk from the middle of the city. In fact, the CBD shops are so close you could pop out for a haircut during a drinks break, or work it the other way and pretend you were doing boring chores in the city but then snuck in the gate after a brisk four-minute detour.
Seddon Park (formerly Westpac Trust Park, Westpac Park and Trust Bank Park - a victim of bank-brand schizophrenia) is just like heaven for cricket aficionados. It's also a picnic lover's heaven, thanks to its monstrous grass embankment.
You can expect a crowd of practical types: students from the city's University of Waikato, panel beaters and diesel mechanics cutting loose, and tents chocker with white plastic chairs and rural bankers impressing their rural clients.
There will also be hundreds of children with bats and balls, responsible for endless and epic games of BYC all around the ground. As the tennis balls get hooked and pulled and top-edged onto the field, it becomes a personality test for the closest player or security guard. Will they return the ball, give a headshake, or turn a blind eye?
There's even Bradburn Sports, a sports shop inside the ground owned by Northern Districts stalwart, seven-Test international and now Scotland coach Grant "The Beagle" Bradburn. He is third on Northern Districts' all-time first-class appearances list with 115 behind James Marshall (127), Joseph Yovich (120) and ahead of Graeme Aldridge (109) and the late Andy Roberts (the one from Te Aroha, not Antigua) (104).
The crowd of up to 10,000 is close to the players. You can reach out and touch the players if that is what you're into, and you can see hairs standing on necks. You could steal one of their Powerades. If you're Chris Kuggeleijn you could go up the back of the stand and throw your match pass over the fence to let your mate in. Hypothetically if you said something about Mitchell Johnson's facial bolt or Doug Bollinger's "hair extensions" - and he was at third man during a Test match - you wouldn't need to use your shouting voice for him to hear.
Seddon Park is the place where cricket got its grip on me. I was a flat-topped 15-year-old at the cricket with my dad. We were basking in the central North Island New Zealand sun, happy to watch Northern Districts take on the big guns from Auckland: Jeff Crowe, Dipak Patel, Trevor Franklin, Adam Parore, Murphy Su'a - and even the enigmatic Mark Richardson (who batted 10, and did not bowl).
We were also curious about a new import from Glamorgan, our appetites having been whetted by Graeme Hick bludgeoning Kiwi domestic attacks in his winters for several years. At 57 for 1, Matthew Maynard strode to the middle for the second innings of his New Zealand first-class debut. One run later Kyle Wealleans was gone, and Maynard was joined by Shane Thomson.
Two and a half hours later, Northern Districts were 319 for 2 as Maynard and Thomson set about demolishing the Auckland bowling in pyrotechnical fashion: 43 fours, two sixes, a Bradmanesque 261 runs in 150 minutes. Patel bowled 12 overs for 71, Vaughan 14 overs for 77 and Steve Brown 11 overs for 75. This was a scene of utter devastation. I was hooked for life.
Seddon Park is also the place where the world's shortest ODI was held: a coin toss, and that was it. Malicious rain washed away any result in the New Zealand-Sri Lanka series in January 2007. As Don Cameron put it in the Almanack: "Although no play was possible, the toss was made and the teams named, which meant, under ICC regulations, that the match counted in the records. Jayasuriya thus 'played' in his 375th ODI, breaking Sachin Tendulkar's then record, while Billy Bowden became the eighth umpire to stand in 100 ODIs - though he never had to stand at all."


Finally, for the record, amazingly named, India-born, English county wicketkeeper Hamilton Hamilton never played any of his 15 first-class matches in Hamilton. He will not break that duck either, having passed away aged 76 in 1929.

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