The boos and catcalls that rang out from the McLean Park grandstand may well have been echoed in the New Zealand dressing room last night.
Match officials abandoned the second one-day cricket international against West Indies in bright sunshine at 5.20pm yesterday, leaving New Zealand needing to win the next three to clinch the series, starting in Queenstown on Wednesday.
It was no joke, even if comedian Ben Hurley delivered the bad news to around 1000 punters whose hopes were raised significantly when the covers were removed and ground staff got to work just before 5pm. The latest play could begin in the day-nighter was 7.12pm for a 20-over match.
But New Zealand Cricket's match manager Owen Harrison said the outfield was unfit for play, even with just under two hours drying time left, in warm sun.
Puddles were still visible, although ground staff didn't appear in a hurry to hasten the drying process after steady but hardly torrential rain through the day. The shady area in front of the main stand was deemed dangerous.
''It was really a safety issue,'' Harrison said. Safety may have been an issue for Hurley and match officials too as the locals vented, with cries of ''that's rubbish'' booming out. All ticketholders will receive a full refund.
Usually providing an excellent pitch and close, high-scoring contests, McLean Park hosts the India tour opener on January 19 and is confirmed as one of seven New Zealand host venues for the World Cup. But the ground's slow drainage may well attract closer scrutiny from NZC.
West Indies led 1-0 after their two-wicket win in Auckland and it was clear which side was more eager to get under way.
Barely a West Indies player was seen on the outfield while New Zealand coach Mike Hesson and his players were regular visitors to check on conditions.
Hesson confirmed fast bowler Adam Milne would have played his first ODI on home soil on a hard pitch that looked to have plenty of pace, and was clearly frustrated.
''When we turned up to training yesterday the ground was pretty soft and we realised it couldn't take a lot of rain. There wasn't a heck of lot but it is lying out there,'' Hesson said.
Asked if ground staff did enough to get the oval ready, Hesson said: ''That's not our job, really. The umpires look after that. We were obviously keen to play and are very disappointed.''
New Zealand will take 14 players to Queenstown, with fast bowler Tim Southee having recovered from minor surgery on his big toenail.
Southee bowled some overs yesterday and was passed fit to travel, although Hesson said he may be kept on ice for Nelson on Saturday.
Hesson clearly wants to see what 21-year-old quick Milne has to offer, so he could get another chance on Wednesday if the pitch looks to have some pace.
Colin Munro was in the squad as a backup batsman only, Hesson said, and unlikely to feature unless there were injuries to the frontliners. The only question is over the bowling balance, with allrounder Jimmy Neesham most under threat if Milne plays.
New Zealand are now in a virtual knockout scenario for the remaining three matches, and if they drop another game the West Indies hold an unbeatable position.
''Hopefully we get some weather that'll allow us get out and play. Any game we're pretty desperate to win. We've got a keen group here, and a quite exciting group we really want to get on the park, so hopefully Queenstown allows us to do that,'' Hesson said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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