New Zealanders can feel blessed, in many ways, and especially amidst an unabating global pandemic, when we can still venture forth and enjoy our beloved summer holidays. Sun, sand, and for many of us, cricket. The national summer game. And we are also fortunate to have some world-class places to watch it from. But what makes a good cricket ground? Facilities? Plastic stadium seats and plastic cups or travel rugs and thermos? Competitive pitches offering something to both bat and ball? Or easy parking and yummy onion bhajis? Just like comparing Kane Williamson's back-foot mastery to Martin Crowe's on-drive, it's all subjective. Herald senior journalist Kurt Bayer gives his personal top 10 cricket grounds in New Zealand.
NUMBER TEN: MainPower Oval, Rangiora
Jump on the front foot like Brendon McCullum, a home choice first-up. I was born a few hundred metres from MainPower Oval, to the sound of bagpipes, apparently.
A Scottish pipe band convention marched past Rangiora Hospital and gathered wheezing and och-ayeing in the Showgrounds over the road. Just beyond that was the mossy, low-rent Recreation Ground where the Old Boys' cricket club toiled on summer Saturdays, and where the local football side churned it up over winter.
A favourite spot for bunking high school kids to smoke durries.
There had been cricket played here since the 19th century but the ground was given a major makeover and hosted its inaugural first-class match in 2004 – going on to become a lifesaver to the region's cricket after the devastating 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
Since then, it's hosted many Canterbury games, both red and white ball, and some proper legends.
Rahul 'The Wall' Dravid got a ton here, English beanpole nasty-fasty Steven Finn bowled one of the quickest spells some red-and-black batsmen had ever seen (or not seen), Marty Guptill hit a ball over the pavilion, travelled the road, and landed amongst the train tracks, Ben Stokes clean-bowled for two on his Canterbury debut, and most-importantly the scene of mighty Southbrook's only premier men's title in 2011/12.
Beautiful, white picket-fence postcard ground, the most perfect idyll to watch cricket.
NUMBER NINE: Seddon Park, Hamilton
A telly fave. The village green-style setting, its classical circular dimensions, hugging greenery, and bordering Stalinist-designed office blocks.
Named after former Prime Minister 'King Dick' Seddon, the "boutique" ground always looks a treat.
When it beams onto your TV, it reminds you that summer is here; don't go anywhere. There's nothing to do. The lawns can wait. Pull the curtains and block out that annoying glare. Disconnect the phone, bring the chilly-bin into the lounge, and soak up Ross Taylor filling his boots.
NUMBER EIGHT: Cobham Oval, Whangarei
Home of the Knights. Named after English cricketing aristocracy, Cobham Oval could easily have been air-lifted from the Yorkshire Dales or the Kent countryside.
A perfect little ground that has played host to some ODI action and should get a lot more.
Its pavilion stand, with quirky turrets, long balcony, central-facing clock and billowing flags, backed by native bush, is enough to send any cricket-anorak into feverish exaltations.
NUMBER SEVEN: University Oval, Dunedin
It's no Carisbrook, with the magnificent grimy concrete terraces and the train stopping for a gander on its way past, but University Oval is pretty cool.
Another classic ground – one of so many in New Zealand, and even on this list some notables gems have to miss out (sorry Saxton) but it still has uni kids, albeit the geekier ones, and is another picturesque place to park up.
I'm sure the students must bury cases of Tui and dig them up later. At least I hope they do.
It's also enjoyable to watch visiting international teams from warmer climes – Australia, the sub-Continent, South Africa, West Indies… pretty much anywhere except England – wearing three jerseys and digging frozen hands deep into their pockets.
NUMBER SIX: Bay Oval, Mt Maunganui
Could there be a more perfectly-located spot for watching cricket in the summer holidays?
The Mount draws people in like Kane approaching another ton, or the coffee van on day two of the Test.
Grassy banks, blue skies, a manicured oasis out in the middle. Now with lights. Build it and they will come.
And half the Black Caps team live in the Bay area too, so we'd better give them a nice ground and a worshipping crowd, to keep them happy and beating all-comers.
NUMBER FIVE: Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
If Hobbits played cricket, Pukekura Park is their The Shire – home alongside the Central Stags.
A natural amphitheatre, the terraced embankment could have been constructed by the Incas.
Cricket's been played here since 1880 and it's easy to see how in 2007 it was named one of the six greatest cricket grounds in the world by the sport's bible, Wisden.
NUMBER FOUR: Queenstown Events Centre, Queenstown
Whenever the conversation for world's most picturesque cricket grounds comes up, often in the slow periods of test cricket, Queenstown inevitably comes up.
Its backdrop of the Remarkables mountain range is, well, remarkable. It also backs onto the airport and jets taking off from fine leg is another special sight.
Like Bay Oval, it's attracted big festive season crowds in the past. On New Year's Day in 2014, Black Caps all-rounder Corey Anderson smashed the fastest ever ODI century, reaching three figures in just 36 balls.
While it appears to have fallen off the international cricket calendar, surely more cricket needs to be played there, if for no other reason than to show the rest of the world just how spectacular New Zealand's scenery is.
NUMBER THREE: Basin Reserve, Wellington
Okay, just hear me out.
Yes, the Basin Reserve is a national treasure. New Zealand's Lord's. The grand old lady of Kiwi Test cricket. The scene of our first Test win against England in 1978. The place where Martin Crowe nibbled an Arjuna Ranatunga pie on 299 and proceeded to spear his bat through a dressing room wall. Baz's triple hundred. The world's biggest roundabout. Sirens wailing through the air. Blooming pohutukawa. The Black Caps' bowlers tradition of hiring a limo post-Test win and cruising around boozing. Ah, the Basin.
But, the Basin.
The howling southerly gale. You just can't get past it. Lead-plugged bails stand no chance. It whips through the Cook Strait, rattles the rickety RA Vance Stand and cuts through to the bone of huddled spectators.
A legendary, special place, there is no doubt. It's just a shame that you can't always enjoy it.
NUMBER TWO: Eden Park, Auckland
Okay, calm down. It's just my personal opinion, it's quite alright. Eden Park.
Now, I appreciate most Kiwi cricket fans – especially non-Jafas (of which, I am one) – will not agree with me but Eden Park is a fantastic cricket ground.
Odd-shaped, granted, too small, almost certainly, but when it's got a big crowd for a white ball game there is nowhere better.
Take the 2015 Cricket World Cup. The round-robin match against arch-foes Aussie when Kane 'Steady the Ship' Williamson calmly caressed a six into the stands for a one-wicket win.
Or the now legendary semi-final upset over South Africa when Grant 'the Hairy Javelin' Elliott did the same thing and launched us into our first final. Absolute scenes.
And then there was the 1992 world cup – the highs of Hogan's ton and beating Straya, then the heartbreak of the semi-final at the hands of skinny Inzi.
When it's packed, Eden Park rocks.
And by the way, it's a fine Test venue too. Sat high in the stands, over the top of the sightscreens, able to look down the wicket, a unique perspective for Kiwi grounds… Lovely.
NUMBER ONE: Hagley Oval, Christchurch
You can lose yourself at Hagley. With the surrounding oriental plane and elm trees, bleached Port Hills in the distance, only the concrete tops of the nearby hospital blocks hints at being in the middle of a city.
A thigh-high, flat-topped white picket fence encircling the growing-green carpet. The gentle-sloping grass embankment (take note Basin, not so steep), a shallow fruit bowl, now complete with light towers. The five-nippled milk-white Hadlee Pavilion dotted by neck-tied old Christchurch money letting ice melt in their G&Ts. Intimate, charming. Idyllic.
And since the killer 2011 earthquake ended Lancaster Park's glorious history, and Hagley Oval was upgraded from being a mere historic club ground to award-winning, global theatre of dreams, it's become a national fortress.
Memories. B-Mac's world-record fastest ton against the Aussies in a forlorn flogging – the Black Caps' only Test defeat at Hagley Oval since the return of international cricket to Christchurch, Boxing Day 2014.
And that first Test, against Sri Lanka and in front of a cricket-starved crowd, saw then-captain McCullum rise to the occasion with a startling, swashbuckling, uproarious 195. B-Mac smote 11 sixes – many landing high on the chocker grass embankments spread with patchwork rugs, low-slung camp chairs, recovering Christmas Day gluttons - and was caught trying to reach his double ton with another mighty almighty heave. Glorious.
Then there was the pumping of Pakistan, world number ones at the time.
The golden draw against England in 2018 which sealed a precious series victory and finally silenced the Balmy Army. In altogether too-slowly-fading light, that lionheart Wagner and unlikely willow-hero Ish Sodhi stood tall, protected their wicket with bat, pad, bare, unprotected skin while the English crowded the bat, even crouching on their knees in a desperate bid to squeak the final wickets. To no avail.
Mighty, mighty Hagley. Fortress. The best place in New Zealand to watch cricket.