The first day-night test in New Zealand’s and success for the home team. I walked to the ground, a few kilometres through Ponsonby’s trendy streets and into residential areas. Outside the ground, all was quiet – this was a significantly more understated environment than during the Ashes. No high-fiving welcomers or face painters here, though there was a mini festival on the ground next door (where domestic cricket is played).
That all helped it feel nice and low-key, just what I needed after the high intensity and excitement of cricket in Australia. Australia have gone on to make their own cricket a little too exciting, to the great amusement of the crowd here.
Meanwhile, in the concrete jungle that is Eden Park, the first day dawned bright and blue, England were put into bat – apparently a 50/50 decision from Kane Williamson – and were soon collapsing in a heap. Much as I’d hoped for decent innings from Stoneman and Cook to steady them both, it was mightily entertaining. I was already tending toward being neutral as the Barmy Army sung, sparking memories of witless repetitive songs, England flags draped around the ground with football club names on (?!) and one twit ahead of me had a Union Jack flying, which at least includes Wales, but seemed particularly ignorant on a day when Scotland were playing in the fabulously competitive and ridiculously sad world cup qualifying competition.
There was an English couple next to me, spotted as such for the integrity of their packed lunch and the miserable look on their faces throughout (even before play) who disappeared at lunch and never returned. They might have had a ticket for just the day, but it seems unlikely as everyone else in that area had four day passes, which created a nice collegiate atmosphere. It was possible to sit anywhere you wanted, though, and some people did move around. I had Kiwis next to me, who shared their food. They also shared their American who, in the absence of a relative, agreed to come on the first day. They expected him to fall asleep, but those lively first couple of hours got him up and he was watching for the whole day, while we chatted about emigration and the states of the countries we had left behind. In his case, permanently. It wasn’t actually his first cricket experience as he has been in the country for 14 years and been to ODIs.
Days 2 and 3 were more frustrating. The rain didn’t fall throughout, but with occasional heavy downpours and often enough to stop the pitch drying. The equipment – the heavy rope and a large hair dryer on a tractor – wasn’t up to drying the outfield, but I’m not sure anywhere would have done better. Meanwhile New Zealand crept on in their first innings and the crowd chatted, other than some frustration towards the end of the day when the inspections seemed too late – after an hour and a half of no rain, they were only just heading for the meal break, due to inspect in half an hour and maybe play another half an hour later.
Ed Sheeran, in town for a gig, was in the ground, spotted an Ipswich flag on our side of the ground and despatched a minion to buy 10 pints for the owner. When I spotted a man with an earpiece wandering through before me I expected something odd was happening, but could never have guessed at the truth (and had to have it explained to me later). I just missed out as the Ipswich fan (Bob) shared his largess around, but it all added to the gaiety of the day.
Eden Park looked prettier under lights, and sunset was always a pleasure. The crowd ebbed and flowed, with Saturday’s rain spoiling any chance of a big crowd, but Sunday better. It was never anywhere near full – and definitely not “a million people” as a kid behind me guessed on Monday – but despite spaces, there were enough people to make a noise from time to time, even if it wasn’t sustained, even with England 27-9. And not enough people for a Mexican wave, which was nice.
By the end of the test I was sitting with Mark from my hostel and Daniel, who had started off a row or two ahead. Daniel is a fellow parkrunner so I had been able to pass on my new knowledge – Western Springs is cancelled – and help him get to Cornwall Park on Saturday morning. I didn’t help him pick up autographs at the end, but he did that on his own as the NZ players came out and walked the line. It’s a funny job now – not just autographs, but also grinning into cameras. Those pictures end up with lots of people with happy photos of cricketers smiling next to them, but the reality is that they wander along a line, smiling obediently and then moving on. Other perhaps than Wagner, who took the time to get some kids into position and his arms round them for a picture. He is a full-blooded cricketer and the crowd love him. Part way through day 4, as he steamed in to relatively little effect, we didn’t understand why, but he gives good variety to the bowlers, and despite a relative lack of pace, he attacks every ball. Plus it worked, as neither Stoneman nor Stokes could resist the wrong shot for ever.
Even watching England lose (again) was a good experience. A bargain NZD$90 for a four-day pass, which included entry to day 5 (which otherwise, with a full day expected, was full price, though they made the final session free as the game came to an end.