What a veritable feast of sport. Dunedin, Otago and the South
could so easily have become sporting backwaters. Instead, we
are spoilt for choice.
What a line-up there has been: the twenty/20 cricket final,
the opening Highlanders rugby fixture, the Warriors rugby
league match against the Brisbane Broncos, A-League football
between the Phoenix and the Melbourne Heart, English
cricketers and top-flight golf - including teenage star Lydia
Ko - in Queenstown. And what an array awaits: in a few weeks
the All Whites in a World Cup qualifier, an All
Black-Australia rugby test later in the season and this
morning, weather permitting, test cricket comes to town.
Anyone with any interest in sport should be excited. Has it
ever been this concentrated, this good?
We, in the South, can dwell in small, liveable communities
and still revel in elite live sport. While wall-to-wall sport
beams into living rooms via satellites every day from all
over the planet, there is nothing like seeing the stars in
the flesh, in the unique perspective and different atmosphere
of being at the ground.
Without doubt, it is the ''grounds'' that have made the
difference both in attracting top sport and in the enjoyment
of them. Putting aside for the moment - if that is possible -
the $228 million question of paying for Forsyth Barr Stadium
and also the cost of running it, there is little doubt it is
the envy of many and has been a catalyst in attracting big
games. It also should be acknowledged Dunedin was elevated as
the alternative South Island venue when the Christchurch
earthquakes wrecked Lancaster Park stadium.
The pressure was building on dear old Carisbrook with each
passing year, and something major was required if Dunedin was
to have a chance to host rugby's best tests. Similarly, it is
hard to have seen Carisbrook being chosen for the cricket
tests of recent years against the West Indies, star-packed
South Africa and now the English, the world's No 2 test
cricket side. Even a good-sized test crowd scattered around
Carisbrook's concrete stands would have looked and felt
inadequate, The University Oval, in contrast, will be close
to full, and cricketing whites and red balls can be set off
by their classic millieu: the green of grass, tree and bank
and an historic and picturesque grandstand.
The end, fortunately, has been lopped off the former art
gallery building and the boundaries, while hardly huge, are
adequate and better than at most New Zealand venues.
The decision to focus on and develop the University Oval as a
boutique ground in a lovely setting was risky as well as
far-sighted. Others centres, like Hamilton and Napier, keep
raising the stakes and the millions spent here, by cricket
and by private donors, could have come to little. Thankfully,
the opposite has so far occurred. Encouragingly, Queenstown
and Dunedin also seem to be progressing symbiotically. The
international resort attracts teams and individuals for play
and work, and then they come on to Dunedin. The Hills golf
course and the Events Centre ground at Queenstown are
jaw-droppingly beautiful, with English test cricketer Ian
Bell last week saying the cricket field's mountainous
backdrop is unrivalled anywhere.
There is also something special about a test against England,
the game's nursery and spiritual home. We have been forced to
drop, for worse but mostly for better, Carisbrook, where
players like MCC himself, Michael ''Colin'' Cowdrey, once
played, but we can still carry our reminiscences forward.
With the likes of Kevin Pietersen, the imperious batsman who
would have been a star in any England team, run-machine
Alistair Cook and the sultan of swing, Jimmy Anderson, there
is now the opportunity to see today's best and to create a
new era of memories.
We might have only 300,000 people in Otago and Southland, but
we are hosting the premier form of cricket with high-class
guests. Bring on the first over, the first session, the first
day. Bring on, too, the best of New Zealand's fighting
spirit, because that is what our team will need over the next