Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wells on cricket

Jeremy Wells loves cricket; possibly even more than we do. And he's written an excellent opinion-piece for the Herald today which we will republish uninterrupted; he opines:

The last few weeks have seen me travel the country following our national cricket team as they play England. I want to this week write about a few things that I've noticed while sitting, clapping, cheering or eating and drinking.
Unfortunately for 33 per cent of our population, Auckland is the worst place to watch cricket in New Zealand. I understand the arguments for Eden Park remaining Auckland's home of cricket: Eden Park was a cricket ground before a rugby ground, Auckland Cricket has half the votes on the Eden Park Trust, Auckland Cricket make money out of rugby ticket sales in the winter, the players' facilities are good, the drop in pitch has become one of the fastest in the country, it's an easy ground to catch a train to, there aren't any other places to play at the moment, Panda Catering make amazing superdogs and the toilets aren't disgusting.
But despite all this, the fact remains most Aucklanders are turning their backs on watching live cricket - numbers are dwindling - which I find sad. Mainly because I grew up watching cricket at Eden Park when 20,000 people turned up to a test match and watched 2.01 runs scored an over, or 40,000 people would watch a one-day international where batting against slow bowling was almost impossible in the second innings.
Still, they turned up.
In those days there was drinking from cans. There was sunburn. People packed their own lunches. They brought their own spirits in chilly bins while some people took scorebooks and scored.
The police provided most of the security - occasionally chasing drunk, nude men across dry outfields and forcing them back over small fences where they were covered up with police hats, given a gentle clip and then evicted.
The boundary line was the base of the fence. Nobody dived for fear of getting hurt. If someone retrieved the ball inside the line the umpires took their word for it. There were no five-minute stoppages while an umpire inside the stand reviewed the decision the umpire in the middle had made. Mexican waves were something that people in Mexico did.
But administrators wanted to enhance the cricket viewing experience. They didn't want drunk people ruining the game for the sober. They wanted players to feel safer.
The police couldn't justify sending 50 police to look after 40,000 people anymore either so private security companies employed people who don't like cricket to watch over the playing surface like thugs. The caterers wanted to make more money. The breweries wanted to make more money. And pressure came on umpires to make fewer mistakes.
So 20 years later what have we got? Well, there's little doubt the cricket has got better.
The bowling is faster. The bats have improved and players are hitting the ball further. Spin bowlers can turn the ball both ways accurately by throwing it. The umpiring has become more accurate too.
But has the cricket viewing experience improved? For our largest city the answer would have to be a resounding, no.
Eden Park has lost its soul. Firstly, fans are forced to watch cricket at night. The straight boundaries, while being the same for both teams, are nothing short of farcical. The beer is served in warm plastic bottles and the food is the same as it was in the 1980s. It's a tough ask for patrons to sit for eight hours on plastic seats eating crap food while drinking warm beer. Kids can't even play games on the playing surface at the lunch break - one of the most memorable parts of my childhood cricket experience.
So while Dunedinites, Wellingtonians, Hamiltonians, Napierites and Hastonians revel in their simple yet comfortable surroundings, and Cantabrians look forward to their new ground at Hagley Park, an Auckland cricket fan waits. Waits for the day he or she can again enjoy watching cricket in their city.

We share Jeremy Wells' pain. We travelled to Auckland in early 1975 to watch the weekend proceedings of the test match against England. more than 30,000 patrons packed Eden Park both days of the weekend, and the atmosphere was electric. This of course was the match that nearly resulted in the demise of Ewen Chatfield who was struck on the head whilst batting, never his strongest suit.

We were again at Eden Park in the summer of 1977 when Richard Hadlee bowled one of the most memorable overs of his career. The crowd on the terraces went crazy and the "Hadlee, Hadlee" chant rang out, accompanied by the banging together of empty cans; of which there were dozens. The following day, Hadlee launched a breathtaking counter-attack with the bat after New Zealand was reduced to 30-odd for five after a blistering spell of fast bowling from Dennis Lillee. Those were heady times.

As Wells notes, things have undergone a quantum shift since those more innocent days. Back then you could park your car on the lawn of a house within 200m of Eden Park for a couple of dollars. You could take your own beers and food, so a day at the cricket was eminently affordable. 

Eden Park c2013 is a very different beast. We were fortunate to have been invited to enjoy hospitality by a business colleague. The view from the upper levels of the stadium is superb. We still reckon that it is a fantastic venue, but not necessarily for cricket. When the ground was realigned, we can't understand why the pitch wasn't left as it was, or resited straight down the ground.

We will pay Eden Park another visit next month when the final test match against England is played there. The presence of England's Barmy Army for the test series will add some atmosphere to the concrete jungle, but Eden Park is not a venue worthy of test cricket.

Hamilton and Napier will feel aggrieved to have lost out to Auckland for the hosting rights to the final test. New Zealand beat England the last time the two teams met at Seddon Park, and the ground is a true cricket ground. And McLean Park at Napier is another fine venue, although the groundsman there needs to come up with a way of making the pitch there just a little more sporting; it is presently too batsman-friendly.

Eden Park's days as a cricket ground are numbered. Given the park's role in the history of New Zealand cricket, that is sad. But cricket needs to find a new, cricket-friendly home somewhere in the Auckland metropolis. The big question is this: where?

1 comment:

kohicorner said...

My mate and I were in the North (ASB) stand, quite close to the prime camera so good seats.
We felt that the short boundary would reward proper cricket shots, rather than the cow corner slogs and fluky snicks which used damage the bowlers'hearts. Shame that so few NZ batsmen could wait until they were seeing the ball clearly before the cross bat slogs came in and were rightly punished.
Still there was plenty of good cricket and if some got bored and wanted to shout well they had paid, and should have been entitled to entertain themselves as long as they didn't spoil things for us old fellows. They didn't spoil things, but the Security troops went far beyond what we thought was reasonable and were really theonly let down of the day for us