Winding Up Windy Wellington

On reflection, as I fly home after the Australian victory in the first Test in New Zealand, I have memories that one only gets from the mystery of the longer form of our great game. It may have ended before the halfway mark on the fourth day and it may appear to have been a walk in the park but nothing could be further from the truth. Even after that fateful decision late on the first day where umpire error gave Adam Voges a lifeline of monumental proportion, the match was anything but a foregone conclusion. Early wickets on the second morning could have changed the course of the game and as Voges and the sublime Usman Khawaja then proceeded to build a mammoth score, the fall of Khawaja’s wicket quickly followed by Mitchell Marsh’s duck made the stomach rumbling fleetingly return. The build up to the game was all based on the condition of the Basin Reserve pitch–a green top made to order for New Zealand swingers such as Trent Boult. After the Australian collapses in England in 2015, it would be déjà vu. Unfortunately for the Kiwis, the best laid plan was quickly laid to dust as the Aussie skipper Steven Smith won the toss and put the Kiwis in. “Mm, hadn’t thought of that!” The same result had occurred in all recent Tests at the Basin with the toss being a major determinant in the fortunes of the game. A steady procession of wickets saw the home side all out for 183. By the end of the day Australia was well on its way to overhauling the meagre total. Then came the Voges moment.

The other background story to the game was the one about the run of recent victories New Zealand had had at home, including their amazing ability to score heavily in the second innings with the likes of skipper Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling having shown their wares against India and Sri Lanka. Surely McCullum would repeat his triple century treat in his penultimate and 100th Test for his country. Surely Martin Guptill would fire in the second innings. Last but not least, surely wunderkind Kane Williamson would bat through a couple of days and force a fourth innings chase by Australia that would see them stumble on the final afternoon. It happens! Well, it wasn’t going to happen this time. But in traditional Test match fashion one had plenty of time to look around and ponder.

The Basin Reserve is stunningly sited surrounded by the mountains and hills of Wellington. Originally a basin of water which was going to open up to an internal harbour in Wellington, it was lifted 1.8 metres by an earthquake in 1855 and became a swamp. Thanks to Wikipedia, I learnt that in 1857 influential citizens seized the chance to drain the land and turn it into a recreational reserve and in 1866 it officially became a cricket ground. It has Historic Place status (Category 1) and is the oldest cricket ground in New Zealand. It looks like it.

A walk around the ground on the first day and subsequent days brought back memories of cricket in the West Indies without the smoke haze from the chickens and pork being cooked on open fires. This is not a stadium. It was a full house on the first three days with “crowds” of approximately 6500! People lie on grassy verges protected from the Wellington westerlies. They sit in sun chairs. They sit in rickety stands, with one of the oldest stands empty as it was an earthquake risk– it looked like one. In a corner of the ground alongside the member’s stand are a series of bars and food vans. They run alongside the ground thus meaning that portion of the venue can’t be used by spectators. At intervals it’s a bun fight.

Beyond the eateries is a large toilet block which again takes up more viewing space. Someone with imagination decided that the top of the dunny would be perfect for viewing, and so rows of seating were added. It made me think of that old quip ” he who farts in church sits in own pew.” It’s literally like that and I chose not to research it further. Better left to others.

My mates and I bought tickets for the 5 days and found we were perfectly seated in the main stand of the members almost behind the bowlers arm. Perfect. And all for the price of $225 NZ for the 5 days (no refund for the fifth day!) I recall paying something like that for the first day at Lord’s last year in a less than premium seat. The dress codes in the members- well, without seeing any signs, it appears there aren’t any. The odd sleeveless torn t-shirt was not uncommon and even the Long Room was open slather. Speaking about the Long Room, it served up pies and sausage rolls for lunch and despite being a bit overcooked, it was just like being at home. But if you wanted a second you would have been unlucky. They ran out 5 minutes into lunch time on the first day, as well as running out of cold beer of the tapped variety during the afternoon. This was Friday. By the Saturday, the problem was exacerbated as there are no deliveries on weekends in Wellington. They somehow managed to scrape through as they seemingly scrounged bottles from every nook and cranny in the general vicinity of the ground. Obviously Sundays are equally sacrosanct in Wellington as upon our arrival 15 minutes after the start of play on the third day we were not able to be scanned in. The perfectly dressed gentleman on the gate waved us through, advising us that the female scanner had slept in. ” She will be here soon.” One of my mates needed an early toilet break after a few heavy days of “hydrating” and a few minutes later staggered up to his seat. He had stood up straight after relieving himself only to belt his head on a bulkhead which angled across a small section of the urinal.

Swiss wenches serving beers all day to a group of thirsty men; huge phallic-looking battered sausages with their ends dipped in tomato sauce and held by long sticks being continually consumed; good wholesome humour and not a policeman in sight for the 4 days. I loved it

Hopefully some semblance of the past may be maintained at the Basin even though it will be forced to move into the future even for no other reason than public health and safely will rear its ugly head. I understand monies have already been set aside for an upgrade in the near future, if only to ensure that the ground’s Test status remains intact. Westpac Stadium lurks only a few kilometres away with it’s typically modern ” look like every other stadium in the world ” appearance.

And so, back to the cricket. The New Zealanders failed for the second time in the match and the fairy tale that had kept all fans enthralled in the match evaporated on the third and fourth days. An innings defeat always appears to be a horribly one-sided affair but this was not the case this time. On and off the field and with the sun shining throughout, it was a perfect example of why I continue to love Test cricket. It’s just that this form of love is difficult to explain. But aren’t they all.

“Gareth Andrews” <gareth@lifeagain.com.au>

About Gareth Andrews

GA continues his life-long passion for sport and the sporting life. His head survived a football career with Geelong and Richmond and has enabled him to follow other pursuits, including his love of cricket and his regular journeys to wherever sport is played. His journeys of the mind are equally important to him and his Blogs can be read on www.lifeagain.com.au He has enjoyed the past 15 years as Vice-President of the Mighty Cats and is hungry for one more Flag.

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