Cow Corner

Partying on grassy banks is the future for Test cricket

Cow Corner

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Test cricket is changing beyond all recognition, of that we have been told to the point of tedium. But it is finally becoming clearer as to what we can all envisage for the future of the game.

Beyond a genuine 'Super Series' or The Ashes, there are few Test matches that can comfortably command a suitably large crowd or drum up a vast amount of interest for the wider public on an international level. That is surely accepted by now.

We are constantly hearing sorry tales of woeful attendances and the perceived-to-be irreversible demise of the game in the harsh reality presented by the modern era with the full quartet of violins providing a mournful accompaniment.

It therefore makes sense to suggest that in some cases the game's authorities need to be realistic and to adapt to the changing demands of the public, and the Basin Reserve in Wellington offers an interesting template of what modern cricket in the longest format could look like.

The quaint little ground has been full to the brim for the majority of the second Test between New Zealand and England - albeit with the capacity just 11,600.

But that is precisely the point. Outside of a small proportion of matches, big grounds are altogether unnecessary for Test match cricket, and serve only to create hollow, tinny atmospheres that are altogether detrimental to the look and feel of the game.

Packed to the brim, the Basin Reserve has a wonderfully intimate quality to it that delights both the local and travelling supporters. It enables the cricket to be watched in a relaxed, party-like setting that always proves hugely popular and conducive to entertainment.

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The convivial feel to the place adds greatly to the general atmosphere and provides the perfect environment for Test cricket as spectators lounge around on the grassy banks, partying across the ground and strolling around uninhibited by restricted seating or over-zealous stewarding.

Spectators at the Basin Reserve are treated to a gorgeous grassy bank on the eastern side of the ground, which represents a sun strip (when it is not raining), while a few laid-back stands provide ample room for placing a beer down by a seat and lounging back with a lunch-time plate of pie and mash.

The 'beautiful Basin' is the backdrop to what is one of the most picturesque cricket venues in the world, but it will change significantly for the worse if the go-ahead is given to build a flyover beside one corner of the ground. The 'Save the Basin' campaign looks like it will be in vain, and Cowers made its views very clear on the growth of roads affecting the quality of top-level cricket earlier in the week. So let's look beyond the ground as an isolated example for all that is right about appropriate stadia.

The game's authorities would do well to look to replicate this kind of setting rather than stage matches in venues that are far too big and entirely soulless, because watching cricket should be fun, and it should be accessible. The game should not be known for the inflexibility of its ticketing rules and the overbearing presence of security staff.

Why can't half-day tickets be sold for Test matches that struggle to bring in capacity crowds? Why can't potential customers be accommodated with more welcoming offers if they are coming straight from work or sampling the game for the first time? Why can't spectators be free to roam around grounds without being escorted by men in fluorescent bibs? Why can't a big mixed group of first-timers observe an afternoon session from a hot tub with a beer?

The crowd figures at Test matches in New Zealand are often mocked and held up as demonstrating the rapidly decreasing popularity of the game's longest format at international level, but there is also a lot that can be learned from how cricket is offered to the type of individuals who would not entertain paying £75 for a fifth-day ticket in England or be happy to be confined to a small white plastic seat for seven hours.

It is an altogether refreshing picture to see enthralled and entertained crowds packed out on the grassy banks of a small but packed ground where fans are encouraged to roam, to relax and to party. It shows the game of cricket in a very attractive light indeed.

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