Fill the Basin was one of the best days out you could get, even if you thought cricket was about as scintillating as Emmerdale Farm repeats.
This was a festival game with a heart, arranged in about 10 days of whirlwind arm-twisting and can-do Kiwi spirit.
The result was $500k for a fantastic cause and an atmosphere inside the Basin that was hugely respectful. Sure, people were there to enjoy the cricket, the sun and a couple of pints but they were also there on a serious note to pay their respects to a part of the country enduring a very tough time.
The mindset of the crowd was best demonstrated during the poignant minute’s silence when the only noise was the vacant squawking of the seagulls wheeling around the Don Neely scoreboard. It was a powerful experience to be among 10,000 people standing in silence, all with heads bowed, as the New Zealand flag billowed in the light zephyr.
Another moment that will stick in my memory bank came when two blokes from Christchurch circled the ground holding a banner with a simple message spraypainted on a white sheet: "East Chch Shirley Cricket Club and Christchurch THANKS Wellington and NZ for your support". People stood and clapped as they went past.
So what were the lessons from this fabulous day on the green grass of the Basin Reserve?
# Stephen Fleming knows some people: He definitely didn’t conjure up this event alone but the idea of Fill the Basin was born in the shower of his Khandallah home (where he is surrounded by NZ's favourite air) and he was the catalyst for one of the capital's greatest ever days of fundraising. I’d thought the involvement of chaps like Gladiator Crowe, Hobbit Freeman and Gandalf McKellen might have felt a little forced on the day, but I was wrong. Their presence saw many moths drawn into the celebrity flame, keeping non-cricket lovers interested. The involvement of an all-star cast of donation collectors – a chuffed Wayne Smith, a chirpy Graeme Henry, a press-upping Nick Willis and a broken-armed Chris Greenacre were all in the arc of my donating swing at one point or other – was another master stroke.
# Nathan Astle would make the current New Zealand side: His quartet of consecutive cleanly hit sixes courtesy of the military mediums from Gavin Larsen was a sight to behold. If Jason Wells hadn’t run him out with a dead-eye direct hit from the long-on fence – only taking a single! – he could have scored a million. Bruce Edgar’s cover drive would make my XI too.
#You don’t have to be an ex-cricketer to be a good bloke: The best example was on-field interviewer and TAB bookie/front man Mark Stafford. A man who loves his sport, and seemed genuinely chuffed to be playing an important role on a mighty day - I thought he did a cracking job.
# The opportunity to walk on the playing surface is important: Being able to feel that wiry, manicured grass between your toes at a Basin cricket game is a wonderful thing to be able to do. Things went a step further on Sunday with picnic blankets and chairs and sauvignon blanc and small children in beige shirts taking up their observation points in front of the pickets overlooking the boundary rope in another piece of inspired planning.
#Shane Warne really is a legend: He was extraordinarily gregarious and his larrikin charisma shone throughout the day, though both his underarm and overarm bowling looked decidedly rusty. His comment that he’d held back from texting the wife of Bruce Cheek (the Trade Me winner of the 6-ball faceoff) because “his missus is not that hot” was an off-the-cuff, tongue-in-cheek gem.
# News flash for NZ Cricket: Get the one-day matches back to the big roundabout – it’s a just a big, fat missed opportunity. The Basin Reserve is the home of cricket in Wellington and people (even non-cricket fans) in this city absolutely love getting along to bask on the bank, meander around the periphery, frolic on the outfield and can even queue for a beer without missing a ball. It has now been six years since the last ODI at the ground and the return of pyjama cricket must commence immediately. If NZC’s feet are stuck in the mud and claims about infrastructure and night-time audiences, Wellington Cricket and NZCPA could call their bluff, snaffle a date and have a traditional fixture (a la the Lilac Hill matches that were held in Australia between a random Chairman’s XI and a touring international side) on Wellington Anniversary Day or Waitangi Day and rasise some money every year.
#John Key is a good sport: There is something quite refreshing in having a Prime Minister who can not only swing a bat in anger, but is prepared to do so in the full blaze of 20,000 watching eyes in the middle of the Basin Reserve. He seemed genuinely nervous when he implored Warne to “be gentle son” before he faced his six balls.
#Even festival games have highlights: The 12th man Angus McEwan diving over the rope at pace and headbutting the leather on the way, the little girl fielding on behalf of Warne and unleashing a fierce throw, Adam Parore batting in a motor racing helmet, Tana Umaga all but popping a knuckle snaffling a blazing drive from Dion Nash, Geoff Allott's anguished words when he realised he'd bowled a wide and had to summon the stamina to bowl a seventh delivery, and Matthew Bell's Saturday Night Fever dance moves on the boundary.
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