Cricket in the 21st century is a varied and complex entity, and nothing demonstrates that quite like this summer in Wellington.
The appetiser, if pies can be called an appetiser, is the Georgie Pie Super Smash tournament, which is nearing its climax. Because of the made-for-TV nature of the event, Wellington’s hosting involvement was controversially limited to a three-day weekend at the stadium. While a crowd of 3,000-plus would have created a great atmosphere at a T20 match at the Basin Reserve, by televising it under lights you get a New Zealand-based audience of upwards of 90,000.
New Zealand Cricket has sharpened up its act in a lot of ways over recent years, and that includes the playing depth at domestic level. However, the commercial viability of the major associations has been neglected at the expense of the focus on the national side. There is talk about privatising these associations to make them more commercially focused. Exposure like the T20 tournament is vital if such a move is to be viable.
The Basin does come into play in January, with a test against Sri Lanka, followed by Wellington’s defence of the Ford Trophy, ‘defence’ being a term rarely heard across most Wellington sports teams. Cricket Wellington acknowledges the ground’s appeal, and the double-header over Anniversary weekend will be promoted as a ‘Celebrate the Basin’ event, as opposed to a mere sporting contest.
This is the one season, however, when the real highlights will be not actually be at the spiritual home of cricket in the capital, but at Westpac Stadium, as the ICC Cricket World Cup rolls into town.
It will be 2011 all over again. The giant screen and fan zone on the waterfront will be back, along with the fan trails to the stadium and all the colour that goes with such an event. In 2011, through the vagaries of the draw, Wellington did not quite experience the full atmosphere of the Rugby World Cup due to the fact that England and Ireland never got to play here. Travelling fans, especially those arriving from the other side of the Tasman, tended to spend as little time in the capital as possible. During the week you could be forgiven for not knowing there was anything going on at all.
This time around it is quite different. England, and its accompanying loud yet well-behaved Barmy Army, gets two pool games in the capital — against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, whose fans are pretty numerous and devoted themselves. As a bonus, there is a quarter-final, which will almost certainly involve New Zealand.
There has been a lot of recent angst about Westpac Stadium being the wrong shape and that it is not really a cricket ground. Much of that is justified, and it is always going to suffer when compared to the Basin. However, for those three matches in February and March, it will be able to deliver to a level that can make the tournament organisers and Wellington proud.