New Zealand Cricket's winter of discontent at Lincoln extended into spring when its first match of the season between New Zealand A and India A was abandoned yesterday because of dangerous pitch conditions.
Against a backdrop of staff redundancies with the administration being relocated to Auckland from their Canterbury headquarters, it had been hoped the start of the new season would take the focus off employment issues at Lincoln University.
However, just eight overs into the List A tour match, the game was scrubbed. The ball had been rearing disconcertingly and New Zealand A, having been sent in, struggled at eight for two.
NZC's new operations manager Lindsay Crocker said the unexpected problem with the pitch at Bert Sutcliffe Oval was "both embarrassing and irritating."
"It's obviously not a good look as hosts to have the first game stopped like this. It really is unexpected as we have never had anything like this happen here before."
In its previous history, the block at Bert Sutcliffe has been usually known as a batsman's paradise with a true, flat surface that produces high-scoring matches.
Two limited-over matches, between Auckland and a New Zealand A selection, played across the block on the western side last weekend both produced runs aplenty, indicating nothing was amiss with the pitches. A visual inspection indicated nothing untoward.
However, both the batsmen dismissed, Hamish Rutherford and George Worker, were caught behind off edges from lifting balls, Rutherford first ball, and their replacements Daniel Flynn and Dean Brownlie faced a similar barrage while some deliveries kept low.
Brownlie wondered if the rain from the previous day's storm had softened the top of the wicket which had been covered.
Brownlie wore one on his shoulder not long before the umpires Phil Jones and Wayne Knights and captains Andrew Ellis (NZA) and Abhinav Mukund (India) conferred and agreed to wipe the game.
"There were a few indentations in the pitch and some took off.
"It was probably the best thing to do under the circumstances," Brownlie said.
While reluctant to say he feared for his safety, Brownlie said conditions out in the middle were trying for batsmen.
The match is being re-scheduled for today on the pitch that the T20 matches were played on, with the other two matches being put back a day so that no games will be lost.
"We did consider moving the match across to the other wicket that had been played on today but it hadn't been fully prepared and it would have taken some time," Crocker said.
Ian McKendry, NZC's general manager of grounds and facilities, described the incident as "unfortunate." "We will get to the bottom of what's happened here but it's a bit of a mystery given how well the wicket plays here."
Core soil samples testing moisture and density were taken from along the pitch and will be analysed.
McKendry said the bounce tests undertaken pre-game had not revealed problems.
"It is an early season wicket but we were confident it would play well."
Ground staff had battled after a wet August to get the block under way and turf manager Alan Gilmour said the block and training pitches had been covered for long periods.
In an unrelated decision, it has been agreed between both camps that the three-day match that was to be played September 27- 29 will now be a four-day match beginning September 26.
The final four-day match will still be played October 3-6 as originally scheduled.
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