Jeremy Wells

Jeremy Wells on cricket

Jeremy Wells: It's not cricket anymore at Eden Park

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Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images
Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images

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.

- NZ Herald

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