Excitement around winter cricket

Sports correspondent & historian
with Sideline Sid

The middle of winter may seem like an unusual time to get excited about cricket.

However, the first day of July signals the start of the new cricket season to the many people engaged in the great game down under.

Last season’s records have been stashed away, while bats are dusted off and cricket balls are being polished, in readiness for the new season.

The 2024/25 cricket season holds a big milestone for Western Bay of Plenty cricket and beyond. The March 1, 2025, heralds  20 years to the day since the first sod was turned in the development of the Bay Oval at Blake Park in Mount Maunganui.

Previously, the piece of Blake Park between the Mount Cricket Club wicket and the tennis club grounds was little more than sand and scrubland contained on the far boundary by pine trees.

The desire to have a cricket arena to again host NZC Major Association games had been long held by Bay of Plenty Cricket.

The independent Bay of Plenty Cricket Trust was constituted in 2009 by the Bay of Plenty Cricket Association. In 2014 the Bay of Plenty Cricket Trust was renamed the Bay Oval Trust.

The first few months of the Bay Oval development saw the amphitheatre completed and irrigation installed, with the newly laid grass lying dormant in the winter of 2006.

Spring 2006 saw the regular mowing of the outfield, and almost two years to the day that the first sod was unearthed, a B Grade club fixture tested the wicket block for the first time.

Just three weeks later, a teenage Kane Williamson proved the readiness of the wicket to provide an avalanche of runs, when he belted 131 for Bay of Plenty Under 19 against their Waikato Valley counterparts.

In the Spring of 2007, the Bay Oval celebrated its first big milestone when New Zealand Cricket awarded the ground a NZC Warrant of (Cricket) Fitness.

NZ Cricket showed faith in the new ground by awarding a State League Women’s T20 match to the ground on December 7, 2007.

While playing out of temporary changing facilities, the wicket and outfield produced plenty of runs and wickets, which led to regular NZC representative games.

August 2010, produced the second big milestone with the appointment of Jared Carter as the Bay Oval Turf Manager. The progression of the ground today, to where it is ranked in the top echelon of international playing fields, goes hand in hand with the turf knowledge and experience of Carter.

The opening of the Bay Oval pavilion in early January 2014 was another big landmark.

ICC interest was sparked after the Bay Oval hosted a number of CWC Qualifying competition matches in January 2014.

Final ICC validation was provided by the Bay Oval becoming the headquarters of the Under 19 CWC in 2018. Seven games in the 2022 Women’s World Cup also took place at the Bay Oval.

Recent summers have seen Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, West Indies, Netherlands, Pakistan, South Africa and England all pay visits to the Western Bay of Plenty.

The summit of world cricket was reached in November 2019 when New Zealand played England in a historic test match at the Bay Oval.

While the full Black Caps summer schedule is yet to be released - one certainty is that the Bay Oval will receive a good share of the international games on offer.