Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Simulator floated to train top players

Conditions replicating the sauna of Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium and batting on the pace and bounce of Perth's famed Waca wicket - that's the idea behind a $5 million climate-controlled centre proposed to New Zealand Cricket.

It's best described as a cricket simulator for top players.

The vision is to base the centre at Bruce Pulman Park near Papakura, just over 20 minutes from Auckland Airport, and is the brainchild of Eden Park turf manager Mark Perham. The complex would simulate conditions and surfaces to help players prepare for tours anywhere from the sub-continent to England to Australia. Estimated building time is less than 18 months.

Blocks of soil would be imported. Humidity would be controlled via air-conditioning or through 4m-high retractable walls. Light can be maximised during winter through a movable roof similar to that in Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium - which lets in 97 per cent natural light and where grass grows easily.

The idea has been under discussion for more than a year as NZC tries to woo investors.

Perham commissioned international architectural firm Grimshaws to prepare a draft - which includes 1900sqm of natural turf, 19 practice wickets, astroturf surrounds and is also expected to be suitable for tennis and lawn bowls. Other renowned Grimshaws projects include Paddington Station, elements of Britain's Eden Project and a couple of Heathrow Airport terminals. They did the preparation work for free.

"We constantly hear about teams being unprepared for tours in winter," Perham says. "Here is an opportunity to do something about it.

"The key points of difference are the use of clay bases and natural sunlight which can be concentrated during winter. We'd import soils. You wouldn't produce whole blocks; just two to three strips of each which would cost around $10,000.

"$5 million might seem a lot of money but then how do operations like the velodrome get off the ground in Cambridge? It requires vision. NZC just needs a suitable backer."

NZC chief executive David White was unavailable but Ian McKendry, general manager of grounds and facilities, says they're weighing options. "We're pleased with the match pitches around the country but we can create better facilities for players to prepare. Creating a high performance centre on natural turf has to be beneficial.

"We've looked at partnerships such as private investment and district councils but not many sports organisations build complexes worth $5 million where a decent return is required."

One reason to invest is the complex should help produce better results overseas. If the New Zealand team gather momentum then fans are likely to buy tickets thus increasing revenue.

- Herald on Sunday

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