Give Lancaster back to cricket

Last updated 07:43 09/11/2012

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OPINION: Islay McLeod argues that Lancaster Park be restored to its former glory for cricket internationals in time for the 2015 World Cup.

It's not (the same) cricket. On January 23, 1855, an earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale heaved up an area of the seafloor in Wellington that would become the Basin Reserve.

On February 22, 156 years later, an earthquake measuring 6.3 would virtually turn every No 1 cricket ground in Christchurch into a seafloor. Except one.

What a stink's been going on about the Hagley Oval, eh?

As you read this, the city council's getting on with its business-as-usual upgrade on the Hagley Oval wicket and outfield. Paranoiacs have seen this as a step too far along the road of the campaign by Canterbury Cricket to have the ground dedicated as the sole No 1 cricket ground of the city in time for the 2015 World Cup.

I confess to being one of them.

I fell hopelessly and forever in love with cricket one Saturday in 1974. To the unbelieving delight of my dad, we joined the thousands packing Lancaster Park that Saturday morning when Glenn Turner took the crease, 99 not out overnight. The eventual historic win against Australia is history. But then so is the former Lancaster Park. So it has been for test cricket in this city for several years.

And history is what this development of Hagley Oval is all about. The Christchurch Cricket Club was founded and the first game is recorded as played on Hagley Oval for the first time on December 16, 1851, to mark the first anniversary of the new settlement.

The oval was fenced for the 1877 match by the touring English side, but the Public Reserves Act forbade charging for admission on public parks. So the newly formed Canterbury Cricket and Athletic Sports Club was formed in 1880 and they purchased land from Benjamin Lancaster. That was then.

Today, Lancaster Park looms as a monstrous, quake-ravaged blot on the landscape. As it languishes in lengthening grass, there's apparent disagreement between the council and its insurers over repair or demolish. From what I hear, the ground's repairable, but foundations are the issue. Still drilling to find a firm foundation.

Has anyone thought about dropping the lot and re-establishing Lancaster Park as the city's foremost cricket ground? That could be fast-tracked in time for the 2015 World Cup and become a far more versatile and useful ground for other sports fixtures and events than the proposed new stadium would be. The biggest problem with so-called multi-purpose stadia is that few sports and events can afford the hire, and every bit of baggage that goes with it.

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Seems to me that cricket is determined to shoe-horn itself into Hagley Oval using the mental imagery of the English Lord's ground, but the purpose of readiness for a share of rowdy one-day internationals in three years.

The council's opinion that the city doesn't have a choice because it's specified in the Christchurch Central Development Plan blueprint and the Government can override any prohibitive legislation doesn't stack up either.

That document refers to use of the venue for domestic and test cricket. ODIs are not test cricket. And the Lord's ground in 2012 is a far cry from the languid leafy surrounds it started out in.

The Suburban Centres programme has its eyes on Ferry Rd from Fitzgerald Ave to Ferrymead, and Woolston's already aglow with new hospitality and shopping developments. Having Lancaster Park restored to its former glory would be a perfect fit and an appropriate anchor for the green eastern frame.

I doubt ratepayers will have forgotten the multi-millions that the AMI Stadium's Deans Stand cost us for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Like most cities, we've woken up to the hangover of ongoing stadium costs, and we didn't even get a game to show for it. The anti-Hagley Oval protesters won't be alone in regretting any future expenditure of rates on a one-off sport event we're sharing not only with the rest of New Zealand, but Australia as well.

And the anti won't go away as the legal and resource management wrangles rear up.

So how about the Christchurch City Council, insurers and Canterbury Cricket getting together quick-smart over the redevelopment of Lancaster Park into what it once was? And carry on with the work on the Hagley Oval. You never know, inter-provincial games might clash with a test match? Or that oval alternative could be needed to allow an outdoor concert at Lancaster Park.

Lord's, the MCG and the SCG we could (or should) never replicate, but Lancaster Park is achievable, if there's a will.

Islay McLeod is a member of the Queen St Cricket Club and the Hagley Ferrymead Community Board.

- The Press

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