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Cricket: Groundstaff defeat the weather gods

Blair Christiansen and his team had plenty of work to do to get Eden Park ready for T20 action.
Blair Christiansen and his team had plenty of work to do to get Eden Park ready for T20 action.

The man-of-the-match last night at Eden Park could have been awarded before a ball was bowled.

Yes, South Africa defeated New Zealand by 78 runs with leg spinner Imran Tahir taking the prize after his five wickets for 24. However, it was a miracle cricket was played in the T20 series appetiser given the rain in Auckland over the past couple of days.

So the bouquets go to turf manager Blair Christiansen, his staff and the park's sand-based soil, each of whom worked tirelessly to prepare the ground for action.

Their efforts enabled 22 players and 22,107 fans to engage in a game which had no right to be played after the deluge. The MetService recorded 52.8mm - more than two inches for empirical stalwarts - fell in the previous 48 hours.

Seen through a wider entertainment lens, the Auckland public got value for their disposable income, and the service sector, be it Eden Park food stalls or the restaurants and bars nearby, also benefitted.

Hopefully somebody sends a packed chilly bin for Christiansen and his team to enjoy once the summer finally arrives.

This writer arrived at the ground at 11am for a spot of reconnaissance on where the day might head by 7pm.

The sieve of an outfield was not sodden under foot. In a further ode to optimism, twin mowers trimmed the acreage inside the 30m circle; the equivalent of turning a hipster beard to executive stubble with a wet shave under leaden skies.

New Zealand Cricket issued what seemed a bold statement, saying: "Covers off. Block and outfield in good shape. Ground draining well. Optimistic of play, weather-permitting."

They were right to place faith in their curator.

"Yesterday was a total write-off and much of this morning was as well," New Zealand bowler Trent Boult said. "Everything blew through nicely for them and they obviously know what they're doing. It's a good surface considering it had been under cover for a couple of days and there was not much to complain about on the outfield either."

"It was unbelievable, I was absolutely amazed," South African captain Faf du Plessis added.

"We actually talked about it, saying there are not a lot of grounds in the world where it would crunch down for two days with rain, and we rock up and it's bone dry.

"I was concerned before we came here. I thought it might need a red flag for guys getting injured in a one-off T20 game before a lot of important cricket, but as soon as I walked out on the park I was amazed how dry it was. They deserve a lot of credit for the systems they've put in."

The Eden Park groundstaff's efforts further highlighted the debacle at Napier earlier this month, when the second match of the Chappell-Hadlee one-day series against Australia was washed out despite the rain finishing 15 minutes before the scheduled 2pm start.

The meticulous efforts from groundsman Phil Stoyanoff to get the pitch into mint condition were betrayed by puggy soil.

The fourth ODI against South Africa was subsequently moved from Napier to Hamilton and an expensive re-lay of turf is required.

Disgruntlement built steadily among patrons to a point which could not be appeased by beer, hot dogs, or pottles of chips.

Last night there was a sense of pleasant surprise lacing the train journey from Britomart to Kingsland that any spectacle would be seen, let alone one as comprehensive as South Africa's

- NZ Herald

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