In late January 1990, Sachin Tendulkar was 16 years old. I was 14. He had played a handful of test matches for India and was about to embark on his first overseas tour outside the sub-continent. I had played quite a lot of cricket in my school lunch hours and was about to embark on my second year at Hamilton’s Fraser High School. He was the Harry Potter of my generation. A boy wizard. I was intrigued. When I heard on the radio that there was an opportunity to win tickets to see him play in India’s warm-up match against the local provincial team, Northern Districts, my mum agreed to take me along. The local breakfast radio announcer was to face 6 deliveries from Kapil Dev outside Seddon Park on the grass behind the pavilion. If he survived all six, Dev would give out five four day passes to the game at random to people who came to watch. Dev’s bowling was very kind and I was tickled pink to be handed tickets from one of the world’s greatest ever all-rounders.
Two extremely positive life experiences resulted from this happy chain of events. At the time, I might have been hard pressed to tell you which one was best – such is the brain of a teenager. The first was I got to miss a couple of days of school. My mum was cool with it. So was my maths teacher who I saw during the game, chilling out on the grass bank muttering something along the lines of “I won’t tell if you don’t.” The second was, less than 24 hours after it had begun, the abrupt end of Kapil Dev’s reign as the greatest cricketer I had ever met. During a lunch break, some friends and I were playing a bit of cricket on the outfield using a letter from an advertising hoarding as stumps – common practice for kids of all ages in the days before they got all precious and stopped letting anyone on the field of play. John Turkington, CEO of Northern Districts Cricket at the time, bowled up to us to ask a favour. Sachin Tendulkar needed some batting practice. There was a bowling machine under the pavilion and Sachin wanted to face tennis balls through it. Trouble was, they didn’t have any. So Turkington offered us a deal. They use our tennis ball. We get to meet Sachin, get his autograph and the honour of feeding our ball into the machine.
The meeting was surreal. He was clearly nervous and neither of us really knew what to say. I was in awe. Not because I was meeting a great cricketer – he wasn’t then, he was just a kid full of promise. I was in awe because here was this kid, only two years older than me and he had achieved everything I had ever dreamed of. When we got down to business, he dutifully knocked ball after ball back to us with lovely text book forward defensive technique. However, after he had been practicing for a little while, the bowling machine started to rip the outer felt off the ball and it started to swing around in the air – that was when the fun began. We clean bowled him once and I reckon we got him LBW a couple of times for good measure as well. That’s right – I have dismissed the best test batsman in the history of the world! True story. As I walked over to the pavilion, knowing we were about to meet him, there was only one question in my mind. What was the difference between him and me? Afterwards I had my answer. Absolutely nothing. A great lesson to learn and a great way to learn it.
Thus, my love affair with Seddon Park commenced.
There are so many wonderful memories. Running out onto the field and patting John Wright on the back after he scored his 100 in the second innings of the second test vs Sri Lanka in 1991. Shane Thomson and Mathew Maynard scoring a century a piece in Northern District’s record run chase – from memory I think it was 300 runs in a session – that earned them a share of the 1992 Shell Trophy (now called the Plunket Shield), New Zealand’s premier domestic competition. I remember rushing down from school to catch the last hour and fearing for my skull as sixes rained down all around me… It’s possible that one has grown bigger and better in my mind than it actually was at the time. Surrounding Steve Waugh and chanting “LOSER LOSER LOSER” after Jeff Wilson hit the winning runs in the fourth One Day International vs Australia in 1993 – actually, I’m not too proud of that one in hindsight. My old autograph book, sadly long since lost, contained all the great names of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Hadlee, Crowe, Border, Waugh, Gooch, Gatting, Gavaskar, Richards, Marshall, Miandad, Akram and so many more. We used to know how to sneak in underneath the old scoreboard where there was a gap in the fence behind a whole lot of shrubbery. We could have paid to get in like everyone else – but it was more exciting this way and the feeling of smug satisfaction in cheating the system added to the experience.
It’s childhood memories like these that make Seddon Park an altar in the temple of my formative years, but even if I had never been there in my life, it would still be a wonderful place to watch cricket. A green oasis of tree lined calm. Grassy banks filled with office workers relaxing during their lunch breaks, kids playing games of their own and families enjoying picnics under the dappled shade of the Maple trees. It’s more than just a cricket ground – it’s a feeling. One that I can’t describe anywhere near as evocatively as this does: Duckworth Lewis Method’s ‘Mason on the Boundary’. Whenever it comes up on my I-Pod, I’m transported back in time. I suggest turning the sound right up, pushing play, then scrolling up to the slideshow of photos above. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very sunny summer’s day on Tuesday (Northern Districts vs Canterbury, Round 4, Plunket Shield) when I took them. But you still get the idea. Enjoy.
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A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/