Amid all the carnage left in the wake of the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, the city also lost its primary cricket venue, Lancaster Park. With time, the boutique Hagley Oval, located within the approximately 165-hectare Hagley Park, became the city’s new Test centre.
The two venues can’t be any more dissimilar in character. Lancaster Park was a stadium where Hagley Oval is clearly a ground, with only one permanent stand and grass banks everywhere else. And like Auckland’s Eden Park, Lancaster Park hosted both cricket and rugby, and was known for having similarly quirky dimensions, while Hagley Oval has the traditional cricket-ground shape implied by its name, and some of the longest boundaries in New Zealand.
Another major difference between the venues is how much, or how little, spinners have enjoyed playing there.
Of all the grounds that have hosted Test cricket in New Zealand, Lancaster Park – later known as Jade Stadium, and then AMI Stadium – has produced the best average for spinners, 28.17, though the 40 Tests at that venue were spread over a 76-year span, during which the conditions weren’t always the same.
Which ground has produced the worst average for spinners? Hagley Oval, of course – an eye-watering 59.78.
It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the lead-up to the second Test at Hagley has contained plenty of talk about New Zealand playing an all-seam attack against India.
On the eve of the Test match, the pitch was a bright green, with 12mm of grass left on it, according to head groundsman Rupert Bool.
The pitch is expected to offer a little more pace than the one in Wellington did during the first Test last week, where the bounce was often steep but slow off the surface. There is likely to be plenty of seam movement, at least on days one and two, and perhaps more swing too, with bowlers not having to deal with the extreme wind conditions prevalent during some parts of the first Test in Wellington.
And even if there is wind, there may not be any drawing of straws to determine which fast bowler has to bowl against it.
“From experience, I know whether the wind is coming toward the right to left or left to right,” Trent Boult said on the eve of the Test match. “Not straight down, and I have seen the wickets. Just excited to have a crack against a good side. It has been an exciting series so far.”
As much as New Zealand’s fast bowlers enjoyed bowling at Basin Reserve last week, Boult felt Hagley could offer them even more help.
“The Basin has generally turned into a very nice batting surface,” he said. “There’s a lot of runs been scored there both in domestic and international cricket. Here’s a slightly different story. You’re not battling the wind first of all.
“The overheads are there and it’s generally a nice place to pitch the ball up and get it swinging around. So we do enjoy coming here as a bowling unit. Hopefully, we can continue that over the next couple of days.”
Boult did not commit to whether New Zealand would play four fast bowlers, though. With Neil Wagner coming back into the side, their pre-match twelve is pretty clear, with the tall fast-bowling allrounder Kyle Jamieson and the left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel competing for one slot.
“If we look at the record here from specifically New Zealand spinners, there haven’t been too many wickets taken by spinners,” Boult said. “If that suggests there isn’t much turn or they haven’t bowled [that much], I’m not too sure, but generally it’s good wicket that has good pace and carry.
“There are several ways to be aggressive, whether you can have four or five slips or whether you can have a ring field to control the run-rate. In my opinion both things are aggressive.”
“I know it swings around here a bit and it generally a good wicket, a good contest between the bat and ball. That’s what we are going to expect.
As poor as the overall record of spinners at Hagley Oval looks at first glance, only six Tests have been played here, and not a whole lot of world-class spinners have taken part. No frontline spinner from New Zealand has played more than one Test here, and whoever has featured has often had very little to do.
Visiting spinners, however, have done a useful job here on a few occasions.
When Brendon McCullum smashed 145 off 79 balls here in 2016 – the fastest Test hundred of all time – Nathan Lyon took three first-innings wickets to help bowl New Zealand out for 370 in a helter-skelter Test that Australia eventually won.
A year later, Shakib Al Hasan and Mehidy Hasan Miraz shared six wickets in a creditable first-innings performance from Bangladesh to bowl New Zealand out for 354.
A good spinner, therefore, can still make a difference, and India will have either R Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja in their attack. New Zealand will know that the only Test they lost here came when they had an all-seam attack, and that they’ve played at least one spinner in each of their other Hagley Tests. Over rates could be another factor that could dissuade them from going all-seam.
No matter what sort of attack New Zealand go in with, their fast bowlers will know not to get too excited by the prospect of a green, helpful pitch. Their preferred mode of attack in home conditions has usually been to stay disciplined and let the pitch do its work in the first innings, and stay just as disciplined in the second innings and wait for the batsmen to make mistakes. With India promising to take a more proactive approach with the bat in Christchurch, Boult reinforced the importance of that discipline.
“It’s a good question, finding the balance between being aggressive and over-aggressive,” Boult said. “There are several ways to be aggressive, whether you can have four or five slips or whether you can have a ring field to control the run-rate. In my opinion both things are aggressive.
“From what I know and I have seen, there are certain players in the Indian team who don’t allow you to bowl to them and put too much pressure on them. We are expecting them to cash in on any kind of loose deliveries. So I suppose we can focus on drying up boundaries and not let them not get away to good starts. It’s probably what we are looking at and dissecting.”