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Triumph at the Basin Reserve
9:45am Thursday 20th March 2008 in Sport
England's victory in Wellington on Monday ended a barren run of seven Tests and was their first success overseas for two years. It vindicated the selectors' dramatic axing of Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard. The first was inevitable but the second was a surprise considering the Yorkshireman's ability to swing the ball. Both suffered from lack of match practice and were frustrated by a slow, low pitch at Hamilton. Harmison has lost all confidence and, with Stuart Broad's enthusiastic performance in Wellington, he is unlikely to regain his place. Hoggard will be back at Napier if Anderson's ankle, damaged during a ridiculous game of warm down' soccer, has not fully recovered.
The match was a triumph for Cricket Wellington who have fought hard to promote Test cricket at the Basin Reserve. Gavin Larsen, their chief executive, described Saturday's play, when the ground was filled to capacity and closed for the first time during a Test, as the happiest day of his life'.
Originally a lake which was elevated into a swamp by the 1855 earthquake, before being drained by prison labour, the Basin is the only major New Zealand Test ground where cricket does not have to play second fiddle to rugby. Completely surrounded by a frenetic one-way traffic system, it could also claim to be the only venue where Test cricket is played on a roundabout. Protected by Act of Parliament, it staged its first match in 1868 and is the country's only sports ground to gain a place on the National Heritage List.
Most of its capacity 11,600 spectators watch from a grassy bank on the eastern side of the ground, but the radio facilities are sited along a vast gondola in the high roof of the members' R.A.Vance stand. Although this giant gantry provides a panoramic view of the ground, Mount Victoria and the approaches to the airport, it is seldom warm.
This was the first of five Tests I have scored there where our box has been protected by glass. Without it, when a southerly was blowing, it was absolutely freezing, the wind hitting your face before rebounding off the wall behind to attack you on a second flank.
In 1984 I led my XI on a tour of Australasia that included a match at the Basin. There we won a close contest against the Midlands-St Pats Cricket Club. Now defunct, happily not because of that defeat, their neat pavilion now houses the offices of Cricket Wellington.
Our scorer for that match and throughout my tour of New Zealand was Cheryl Styles. One of the first to use my linear method, she soon progressed from scoring for the historic Johnsonville Club (where she now operates from a room the size of our TMS box and bearing her name) to keeping the book for Wellington in first-class and limited overs games, before scoring Test matches at the Basin Reserve. Until recently, she operated there from within one of the most shambolic scoreboards on the international circuit. Players' names were assembled, letter-by-letter, on sticky back plastic and pressed against its green background. Frequently the odd letter fell off. Sometimes they ran out of a letter and had to put up another one sideways or back to front. Mike Selvey memorably described the overall effect as looking like a ransom note.
Angus Fraser, another former Middlesex and England opening bowler, recently set a bizarre record for any English media man visiting here. The maximum permitted speed on New Zealand roads is a mere 100 km/hour (62.1 mph). Caught doing 143 km/hour (88.8 mph), he was fined $500, banned from driving for the remainder of the tour and had his licence returned to the UK.