The first day of the first-class cricket season is the very best day of the year.
Well, there's Christmas Day, your birthday, International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction (October 13 in case you've forgotten) and Crate Day. But apart from those days, it's definitely the very best day of the year.
The reason is simple: the majority of humans would choose optimism as a state of mind over pessimism, and nowhere is optimism more manifest that at the oval on the opening morning of the opening match of the Plunket Shield season*.
There're 30-odd people who hope this will be their season.
There's the players of course, who have spent long winter nights lying awake and imagining the epic innings they are about to play, the unplayable spells they'll bowl and the razor-sharp one-liners they'll deliver from the slips cordon.
There's the umpires who'll be thinking, 'If I can stop from screwing up so much I might just be the next Chris Gaffaney.' Dream big.
Then there's the curator who'll be hoping that nobody blames him for Otago being 33-6 after an hour.
Yep, optimism can turn pretty quickly if you're a top-order Otago batsman. Nick Kelly's cheery disposition lasted all of one ball but he had company as he, Nathan Smith, Cam Hawkins and Mitch Renwick combined for a single run.
It looked like Otago had spent a fair bit of time in indoor nets before being shocked by the elements – which included a six-foot-plenty Kyle Jamieson – and this would be true as there is nothing quite as optimistic as trying to play in Otago in October.
But hope still springs, this time in the form of Michael Rippon, another product of New Zealand's richest talent nursery: Africa.
His cheerfully constructed ton spared Otago the ignominy of a double-figure total (unlike further south where Wellington crumbled for 65 versus Canterbury).
Within a few golden hours of Eden Park Outer Oval's season opener we'd see a ferocious spell from Jamieson and a subsequent five-for, a golden duck, a counter-punching century, a spectacular one-handed catch by the keeper and a pitch inspection from the New Zealand coach.
And it's free of charge.
The brilliant thing is the Plunket Shield is a basket case. It's a fiscal pros-and-cons sheet without any pros. It has no logical place in any demand-driven, free-market capitalist society.
It's also fantastic. Those money men at New Zealand Cricket who have attempted to reduce its footprint should be met with hordes carrying pitchforks and really mean signs. If we gathered together the crowd at Eden Park yesterday and stormed David White's citadel at NZC HQ, that horde would have numbered... 18.
To lament the lack of people though is to miss the point. The Plunket Shield feeds into a larger cricketing ecosystem but it has a rhythm and life all of its own.
It's uniquely suited to a place like the Outer Oval, with its verdant square of green sandwiched between a busy arterial road and the back of the main oval's unloved West Stand.
It's the sort of place where if you're playing on the edge of the wicket block – which they are this week – you cannot walk in at fine leg for fear of ending up at leg slip.
The ground has two stands of its own. The Merv Wallace Stand might once have qualified as "quaint" if an aluminium joiner hadn't got hold of the windows but compared to what it stands next to it looks like the Lord's pavilion.
The one positive thing you can say about the other, mercifully unnamed stand is that it has not fallen down. Designed by an off-duty, Brezhnev-era architect in his lunch break, the stand could only be aesthetically improved by a stick of Semtex, a short fuse and a Zippo.
Yet, somehow, like the Plunket Shield itself, it works.
Happy Opening Day of the Cricket Season Day!
* Annoyingly, the season opened a day earlier in Wellington and Hamilton, but for the purposes of this story, we're disregarding that.
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