Test-match cricket at the Wellington's Basin Reserve could die if traffic on a proposed flyover next to the ground is not hidden, former cricketers have warned.
Former Black Cap and NZ Cricket chief executive Martin Snedden was one of a number of cricket experts who gave their views this morning on the New Zealand Transport Agency's plans to build a two-lane highway flyover, 20 metres north of Wellington's historic cricket ground.
If seeing traffic became a problem players and spectators would probably abandon the ground, putting its international status in jeopardy, he told a four-member board of inquiry.
The board is considering whether the $90 million flyover project should get resource consent.
The agency also plans to build a 12m-high pavilion at the northern end of the ground to block the flyover from view.
But the agency has admitted "small glimpses" of the flyover would be visible above the embankment, even with the pavilion built to a maximum length of 65m.
Snedden accepted the agency's argument that distraction was only an issue within 40 degrees of a batsman's view looking down the pitch, and the flyover would fall outside this range.
But he felt the agency's experts had failed to grasp what a batsman really saw.
A bowler's ability to bowl both sides of the wicket, coupled with the often-changing location of the pitch, meant the problem area for distraction was potentially much larger, he said.
"A fielder at mid-off is not permitted to wave their arms when a bowler is preparing to deliver a ball, despite that fielder being well outside this 40-degree area," he said.
Unless the flyover was completely hidden, traffic would "periodically and irregularly" pass through a batsman's line of sight, and would be more pronounced than crowd movement.
"Cricket balls are very hard," snedden said.
"Impact on the human body of a fast-moving cricket ball can cause serious injury and even death.
"Ewen Chatfield, a former New Zealand test match player, was nearly killed by being struck in the temple by a ball in a test match in 1974."
Snedden's concerns were echoed by former Wellington captain, NZ Cricket president and now cricket historian Don Neely, who spent a lot of time outlining the rich history of the ground.
Neely said views of moving traffic had the potential to cause "irreparable" damage to the Basin's boutique character, and potentially spell the death of test matches at the venue.
"Spectators could decide to vote with their feet and choose not to come to games . . . ultimately, the Basin relies on attracting spectators for its ongoing existence," he said.
"The Basin Reserve could lose its raison d'etre if cricket should cease to be played there . . . nothing would be sadder for Wellington than to see this important historical and cultural symbol become a faded monument to the past." Basin Reserve trust member Sir John Anderson said the flyover and associated pavilion would probably be considered a "major renovation" by the International Cricket Council (ICC), meaning its test status would need to be reviewed after completion in 2017.
No other test match venue around the world had to contend with the issue of traffic being visible from the playing surface, he said.
"The [flyover], without sufficient mitigation, runs a small but very real risk of the ICC status of New Zealand's premier test match ground being taken away," he said.
Eyesight expert Gordon Sanderson, appearing for the transport agency, said it was possible that light could reflect off cars travelling on the flyover and distract cricketers.
But with batsmen being at least 100m from the road, the effect would be negligible, he said.
He predicted traffic on the flyover would be constant rather than "irregular" as Snedden described it.
HISTORY OF THE BASIN RESERVE
1840 – Settlers arrive to find a shallow lagoon where the Basin sits today.
1855 – An 8.2 magnitude earthquake raises the Wellington suburb of Te Aro by two metres and the lagoon becomes a swamp.
1857 – A petition is granted by the Provincial Council to set aside the swamp area as a park and cricket ground.
1866 – The Basin Reserve is established as the home of Wellington Cricket
1868 – The first cricket match is played between Wellington volunteers and the men of the HMS Falcon
1873 – Wellington plays its first first-class game of cricket against Auckland
1875 – First international game played at the Basin Reserve between a Wellington XI and an all-England XI
1930 – The Basin Reserve hosts its first test match between New Zealand and England, becoming the 19th test venue in the world.
1978 – New Zealand, after 48 games in 48 years, beat England for the first time.
1991 – Martin Crowe and Andrew Jones put on a partnership of 467 runs against Sri Lanka. The highest partnership in test cricket at the time.
2009 – The Basin Reserve becomes the 11th test venue to host 50 test matches.
2014 – Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum scores 302 runs in a test match against India, becoming the first New Zealander to score a triple century in test match cricket.
Source: Don Neely
- The Dominion Post