Point-blank: Earthquakes make way for scenic Hagley Oval

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International cricket would not have heard of the picturesque Hagley Oval (situated in the heart of Christchurch) that hosted the opening match of the 2015 Cricket World Cup between Sri Lanka and New Zealand had it not been for the two earthquakes that devastated the town and caused extensive damage to Lancaster Park, the former venue for international matches played at Canterbury.

The 2010 and 2011 earthquakes destroyed the key cricket venues in Christchurch and Hagley Oval replaced Lancaster Park, New Zealand’s oldest Test cricket venue, as the home ground of cricket in Canterbury.

A proposal to develop the Oval for Tests and first-class matches was first put forward by Canterbury Cricket chief executive Lee Germon, the former New Zealand wicket-keeper/batsman and captain, more than six years ago but as it is common everywhere the proposal to changes to the park never got the approval and it kept dragging on until the destruction of the city took place which made the case for it more compelling.

The venue staged its first international game when it hosted the Boxing Day Test between Sri Lanka and New Zealand last year and subsequently it was passed fit by the ICC to host matches of the 2015 World Cup. The ICC officials had assessed the grounds on and off-field facilities and concluded that they were of “good standard” to host international matches. Apart from the Sri Lanka-New Zealand lung-opener played yesterday Hagley Oval will also host the Pakistan vs West Indies match on February 21 and England v Scotland on February 23.

The return of Test cricket to Christchurch after an absence of eight years was marked by New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum’s epic knock of 195 off 135 balls (inclusive of 11 sixes) against Sri Lanka.

Cricket is the primary summer sport played in New Zealand and in Canterbury it has the largest number of participants of any sport, with 22,000 players and over 16% growth since 2007, closely followed in popularity by rugby union, netball and football.
The Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust helped construct the new pavilion with a loan of NZ$3million, providing a new home ground for cricket and much needed community meeting spaces following the impact of the two earthquakes.

Germon who finally saw his efforts being realized described the new venue as “a ground for all generations”.

“The Hagley Oval balances nicely the heritage of the precinct, and all the modern, high-tech innovation that is needed for an international cricket venue. Receiving the official stamp of approval is an important milestone for a ground designed to serve the region for the next hundred years,” he said.

Germon made his ODI debut against Sri Lanka at Bloemfontein in 1994 and went onto appear in 37 ODIs, 36 of which he was captain. He also appeared in 12 Tests for New Zealand.

The ICC has sent out a strong message to match officials and players that they would impose harsher penalties for repeat offenders during the World Cup. All teams have been briefed on the issue.

Dave Richardson, the ICC’s chief executive said that the crackdown has already started.

“Teams are going to be told that the umpire intends to remain firm, that the penalties handed out by the match referees will perhaps be a little bit more serious or higher than before,” he said.

Four players who have most to fear are Australian David Warner, India’s Sikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli and Darren Bravo of West Indies. All these players have been punished for offences prior to the World Cup and a second offence during the tournament within a 12-month period could find them being suspended for up to two matches.

Richardson said that certain players were on his radar and that Australia, India and West Indies were among the teams who were most responsible for bringing the game into disrepute.

“The behavior in some matches by some players was deemed to be unacceptable and not a good example to young fans watching the game,” said Richardson.

He singled out teams as New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa as teams whose player behavior generally was “very good.”

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