So that’s it then. Last week marked the end of test cricket at Eden Park.
A ground that has had such a large part in New Zealand’s test cricket history played out its last moment on Saturday.
The second day of a test match. A test, a deciding match in a rare three match series, in which the home side was on top at the end of day one, against the number two ranked national side in the world. Against the nation with the best and most numerous travelling fans going around. It was a hot day to boot, and there was plenty of room.
Crowd figures? Fewer than 9000; despite all those free passes dished out to the ex-players. And most of them were travelling fans. And, despite half-price tickets on the final day, and as gripping a conclusion as you could hope for, even fewer on that dramatic final day.
This England tour was something special. At the Basin last week I ran into a couple of old mates from the Wairarapa. They only make the trip over the hill when England are in town. The pulling power of this side is not confined to their travelling fans.
There was a lot of criticism aimed at New Zealand cricket for scheduling that test at Eden Park. The place had not been used for a test since 2006, and in the meantime it had $400 million of your money chucked at it to make it a ground fit for a Rugby World Cup. The straight boundaries are laughingly small; on the first day Peter Fulton barely got a snick on a pull shut that went for six.
But you could understand where New Zealand Cricket was coming from. A windfall was arriving and it made sense to cash in on the biggest sporting venue in the country. But what a failure that turned out to be.
It is a ground with a rich New Zealand cricket history too. OK, there was the 26 all out against England in 1955, but there was also our first ever test win there a year later. There was the drama of the Ewen Chatfield near death in 1975 and the >35,000 Lion Red fuelled crowd cheering on Richard Hadlee a couple of years later that impressed the Bay 13 hardened touring Australian media. Strange as it may seem now remains the best atmosphere at a cricket test in NZ ever.
It was also the venue for Ian Smith’s surreal 171 v India, the famous match saving Astle / Morrison partnership in the nineties and the world’s first venture into night test cricket in 2002.
But it has all changed since then. Despite Auckland Cricket’s curious decision to cling onto the place it has become a true rugby ground. People are staying away in droves.
It is a ghastly place for test cricket. The echoing nature of the ground; bad enough during a Blues match is amplified at a cricket test.
The boundary limitations are well documented, and rightly ridiculed by visiting teams, large areas of the outfield never see the sun, and there are the issues around drop-in pitches; Nasser Hussein described the 2002 pitch as corrugated iron, and for once he was probably right. And let’s not get onto the security guards.
It is all very well to say let’s abandon the city and move all test cricket to Hamilton for the top half of the North Island. But Auckland is a huge part of New Zealand’s population (not to mention it’s where the media is based) and it needs a proper home to host this country’s major summer sport.
And if Hamilton is the answer you have to wonder what the question was.
Auckland needs a proper cricket venue urgently. Obviously Albany is not the answer; no one goes to watch anything there. So the solution needs to be south of the bridge. The logical options are Colin Maiden Park, the recent home of the Auckland side or a redeveloped Western Springs which will annoy the Speedway fans.
However there are continued murmurings about using Eden Park No2, which is even more ridiculous than the main ground. Take a look at the Ford Trophy final currently underway. It’s like some players found a bit of grass out the back of a giant supermarket, except with not quite the atmosphere.
So someone just needs to make the call as to which of those two it should be, and then get on with it. And get it up and running before anyone at New Zealand Cricket has a brain explosion and decides to host another test match at Eden Park
Remember when Trevor Mallard proposed the specialist rectangular stadium prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup? The subtext there proposed a proper cricket ground somewhere else; although details were vague.
He got that one right.