Passing the test

Otago Cricket chief executive officer Ross Dykes.
Otago Cricket chief executive officer Ross Dykes.

Test cricket had abandoned Dunedin before the University Oval was redeveloped. As this week's test match between New Zealand and England begins, Otago Cricket CEO Ross Dykes talks about the venue. Gavin Bertram reports.

Ross Dykes believes that the late Graeme Elliott would have been a happy man this week.

The Otago Cricket chief executive says his predecessor in the role laid the groundwork for the return of test cricket to Dunedin after a decade long absence.

Today the impressive England cricket team begin a test match against New Zealand at the University Oval - a venue Elliott was central to redeveloping.

"He had this great vision," Dykes says. "I think if he was alive today he would be absolutely thrilled with what he saw."

The England test match will be the fifth the ground has hosted since 2008, with previous visits from Bangladesh, West Indies, Pakistan, and South Africa. This is likely to the biggest one yet, with bigger crowds thanks to the visiting Barmy Army, and a huge contingent of British media.

To secure the test, Otago Cricket agreed to New Zealand Cricket's demand that the oval accommodate more than 5000 people. More than 2000 temporary seats have been added, and early ticket sales suggest most will be full.

For Dykes, hosting such a prestigious test match is a prospect to be savoured.

"It's exciting more than daunting," he says.

"We've got past the point at the University Oval of worrying whether we can do everything right. We've overcome all that, and now it's just excited anticipation really."

Dykes took over from Elliott as Otago Cricket CEO in 2005. The organisation had already shifted its headquarters from Carisbrook to the Dunedin City Council-owned University Oval. First opened in 1920, it had been redeveloped and expanded.

There had been a season of domestic cricket on the ground, and it had been approved by the International Cricket Council (ICC) as an international ground when Dykes took over.

It has not been an easy ride though. There was criticism of the pitch, of the small boundaries, the nearness of the old Art Gallery and drainage issues. These have all been resolved.

"A lot of stuff has gone on in the past four years to get ourselves to a standard that nobody can question or criticise," Dykes says.

Developing a cricket-specific ground was immensely satisfying, he says.

Perhaps this had some impact on the Otago Volts, who have enjoyed a surge in fortunes since being based at the University Oval. Most recently they won this summer's domestic Twenty20 competition, gaining entry to the Champions League in India this September.

Dykes says the Volts' profile makes things easier for Otago Cricket. With the organisation concentrating on developing young players for domestic and hopefully international duties, that should remain the case.

Before taking on the Otago Cricket job, Dykes was a longtime selector of New Zealand cricket teams, and naturally has an opinion on the Black Caps side.

"I actually think we've got quite a strong unit," he says. " . . . I'm buoyant about the future of this team over the next three or four years."

D Scene