Christchurch ready for World Cup opener.
On February 22nd 2011 things changed forever for Christchurch and its people. In what was one of the worst earthquakes of all time to hit New Zealand, the city of churches was almost completely wiped out leaving 185 people dead and many more seriously injured. Almost four years on and the city is still in its early stages of rebuilding – a process that is expected to take another fifteen years.
With a sporting heritage that goes back many decades, Christchurch, the country’s second largest city after Auckland, had hosted international cricket and rugby for many years prior to its earthquake devastation, but during its early years of re-build the city has to do without either the All Blacks or the Blackcaps until recently.
As World Cup cricket returns to the country for the first time since 1992, the cricket committee thought it was very important that cricket was returned to Christchurch as the city tries to get back on its feet again.
On Saturday the Kiwi’s as set to open the 2015 World Cup when they play host to Sri Lanka in the tournaments first match, almost fifteen thousand miles away Australia host old enemy England in Melbourne at what is expected to be in front of a crowd of 90,000 at the MCG. The Hagley Oval seems a million miles away from the ‘G’ but the people of Christchurch will hope a sold out Oval of around 20,000 will make equal noise and get this once vibrant city back on the world stage.
Despite hosting its first cricket match in 1867, Hagley Oval has for long been an afterthought amongst the cricket faithful in Christchurch as its big brother Lancaster Park (also known as AMI Stadium and Jade Stadium) hosted international cricket for decades until it was fatefully damaged in the 2011 earthquake.
Lancaster Park had been the home of international cricket in the city since 1930, when it hosted New Zealand’s first ever Test match, an 8 wicket defeat to England. It has since hosted many remarkable matches over the years and despite not having been used as a Test venue since 2006 due to poor crowd attendance, its 36,500 captaincy was seen as an ideal ODI and T20I venue right until it was closed following severe damage caused to its foundations.
With no other international standard venue in Christchurch the people of Canterbury had been deprived of any international cricket since the quake, until a plan was forced to redeveloped the Hagley Oval, a small corner of the 164.637 hectare Hagley Park, located next to the beautiful Botanic gardens and just outside of the badly damaged CBD.
The Oval was developed with an eye on the country’s other traditional cricketing homes such as Wellington’s Basin Reserve and Dunedin’s University Oval and apposed to the grand stadia of the previous Rugby sharing Lancaster Park as well as the likes of Eden Park in Auckland and Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Many people were apposed to an international sports venue been located inside an urban open space but others were just pleased that their city would get a chance to host a global international tournament after the earthquake damage to Lancaster Park ended their hopes of hosting seven matches in the 2011 Rugby Union World Cup including two quarter finals. For a rugby loving country like New Zealand, that was a devastating blow to the people of Canterbury.
Something had to be done to make sure the city didn’t suffer the same fate again when the cricket World Cup came to the country and plans were quickly put in place to revamp the Hagley Oval in 2013.
The controversial plans put forward by Canterbury Cricket were approved by the Environment Court and by late January 2014 the Oval was hosting its first international cricket match, when Canada and Scotland met in a ODI World Cup qualifying match – three years after the city had last hosted an international match when the Blackcaps hosted Pakistan less than a month before the earthquake disaster.
By October of last year the ground was given full ICC accreditation as an international cricket ground and it soon became New Zealand’s eighth Test venue when it hosted the country’s first Boxing Day Test since the Basin Reserve was a regular host of the event up until 2003.
The Blackcaps’ return to international cricket in Christchurch couldn’t have gone much better! A near packed house of 7698 people gave up their Boxing Day to cheer on their side and in return were treated to a delightful sunny day and a Brendan McCullum special (195 off 134). The Kiwi skipper fell just five runs short of what would have been the fastest Test double hundred of all time as the home side dominated proceedings, eventually winning the Test by 8 wickets.
McCullum was certainly impressed with the design of the new ground from a spectator point of view. “I think the way the crowd can interact… being quite close to the action and the grass embankment, there’s a bit of romance about that from a purist’s point of view.”
A return to international cricket was an important step for the city known as the hometown of the greatest Blackcap of them all, Sir Richard Hadlee.
Hagley Oval has since hosted a ODI, also against Sri Lanka, as well as a host of World Cup warm up matches this past week, but the best is still to come. After an eventful opening ceremony on Thursday evening, the main stage begins on Saturday at 11am.
Once again the world’s eyes will be on Christchurch, thankfully this time it’s for the right reasons.