Bay Oval is a traditional grass bank type cricket venue which sits in the middle of Blake Park; a multi-field, multi-sport recreational complex that includes the Mt Manganui Cricket and rugby clubs as well as a Fun Fair.
It is not to be confused with Bay Park a kilometre or so down the road, which is where the Steamers, and very occasionally The Chiefs, play. To make things even more unorthodox, that ground is actually a Speedway track.
This week By Oval hosted a couple of sold-out limited over internationals between New Zealand and Sri Lanka as part of NZC’s move to take cricket in the holiday season to smaller, intimate venues in the provinces. Every Sold-out sign means another KPI box is ticked.
Highlighting the speed of improvements at the venue, was the lasting confusion over what a Sold Out sign actually meant when it came to crowd numbers. People close to the Association had guesses that a full Bay Oval translated into anything between 4,500 and 10,000. In the end the official figure was around 7,500 but nobody knew for sure.
The crowd on Tuesday, who admittedly had a very good ODI in front of them, loved it and were impeccably behaved. There were no evictions or arrests. And when you consider this was Mt Manganui on 5th of January, and the fact the Mount is most renowned for its 1st January arrests on an annual basis, this was a success in itself.
There were some expected teething issues with hosting such a fixture, but does a media tent really need chairs? Countering that were the practice facilities; this is a go-to venue for pre-season training which includes Auckland.
Talk around the ground was that there were plans for a further extension of the bank, another covered area, and possibly even lights. One thing it has in its favour is that it’s a decent sized playing area. With at least two inbound tours a summer almost a given, regional centres can now play their part.
In the past 10 years there have been no fewer than six new venues that have made their debut in hosting international matches. In the South Island there has been University Oval, Queenstown Events Centre, Saxton Oval and Hagley Oval*. All similar in terms of style; all different in what they have to offer.
In the North Island there has been Cobham Oval in Whangerei and Bay Oval. The various District Associations have invested into these grounds, but would want some assurances from NZC before investing much further. NZC now finds itself with some interesting choices when allocating test matches and short form cricket in years to come.
Imagine how complicated it might get if our biggest metropolitan area ever got its act together and showed the same initiative.
*Some might think including Hagley Oval in this list is a bit misleading, given Lancaster Park was destroyed in the 2011 quakes. All the quakes did was precipitate the process; there had not been a test in Christchurch since 2006. Long term, the only difference between the current set-up and a non-quake world is that there is no large rugby stadium to host Day-Night Chappell-Hadlee games.