As a life-long cricket fan and player it breaks my heart to think that McLean Park may be struck off the international schedule after the recent farcical game abandonment.
As a sporting venue there are few more picturesque grounds in the world – Phoenix and Norfolk Pines surround with Hawke Bay sparkling in the background and Cape Kidnappers reaching out to the distance of any wide shot of the park.
It is a place of many fond cricket memories – From Danny Morrison’s hat-trick against India in 1994 to England and New Zealand scoring a combined total of 680 runs in an epic, TIED ODI in 2008, or even Scott Styris and Mitchell Johnson butting head and helmet in 2010 proves McLean Park’s pitch, at least, can deliver the goods.
The cricketing deities may smile upon the clay block out in the park’s middle, but when the skies (and ticket-buying fans) weep, it can be another story.
Drainage at McLean Park has long been an issue and while it may not affect the “mainly rugby” aspect of the ground, cricket’s red and white leather balls don’t take to moisture quite as well as their oval, synthetic rugby cousins.
In an interview for a pre-Cricket World Cup venue tour in 2014 former player and cricket ambassador Gavin Larsen noted before the World Cup “some maintenance work will occur, including drainage improvements on the outfield” (Bay Park in Cricket Spotlight March 26 2014).
The ground underwent improvements around that time with, I believe, a re-turf of the field and drainage improvements made.
Just before Napier’s World Cup games began it was declared the “Pitch is Cricket-perfect” (Napier Mail 4 March 2015). A groundsman was even quoted as saying:
“We have very good drainage out here on the park and we plan to keep it that way. Across the park we have drainage lines about 1.5meters apart, so it drains very quickly into the sump”
McLean Park’s World Cup games all went ahead without outfield issues (even when it rained the morning of the final game between West Indies and UAE).
But since then things haven’t been so flash.
Last year’s Pakistan game being abandoned has been mentioned, but is quite different from the NZ Australia game in that about 40mm of rain fell the day before the Pakistan match with another 10mm on match day.
In other words “it hosed down”.
I doubt many venues would have been playable after such a deluge.
It similarly poured down when the All Blacks finally returned to McLean Park to play Argentina in 2014, but the game went ahead with great ticket sales and the city thrived with all the visitors.
Yet, for whatever reason, one of the greenest pieces of grass in an otherwise bleached-dry region was “too wet” to play on.
That’s not good enough.
It’s even worse when you consider ratepayer money went into getting the game here.
I had naively thought New Zealand Cricket dispensed matches out in an egalitarian manner – West Indies will play here, India there etc., but this is not entirely the case.
Hosting venues (or rather the local councils behind them) “bid” to host bigger games like NZ v Australia.
Not only is there an expected, ratepayer-funded cost in the logistics of hosting of these games, but there’s also an added financial sweetener to attract them here?
So to have a big game like this Chappell-Hadlee match canned in such a ham-fisted manner with players, international media and worst of all the rate and ticket-paying public left in the lurch harms not only McLean Park’s reputation and reliability, but also Napier’s finances.
We want to see Hawke’s Bay promoted on the world sporting stage. We want people to visit and enjoy our wonderful region. We want to see international sports played here and as Napier and Hastings’ combined population is around 130,500 – the 5th largest population base in New Zealand (Hamilton = 150,000 and Tauranga = 128,200) we are in the box seat for hosting such events.
The March 1st ODI against cricketing greats South Africa has now been lost to Hamilton and Napier City Council have revealed that field and drainage upgrades at McLean Park had been put off prior these recent events that will now be done this year, but all too late for this cricket season, criticism and credibility.
There are two One Day Internationals against England and Pakistan scheduled to play in 2017/18. For the sake of one of New Zealand’s most popular international sporting grounds let’s hope things are sorted by then.
Mclean Park’s drainage problems need plugging.
Napier sporting events deserve better!