Pitch Report: Seddon Park, Hamilton

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Dave Tickner gets you to the pitch of the venue for the first Test between New Zealand and England.

<B>Established:</b> 1956/57<BR><B>Capacity:</b> 10,000<BR><B>Floodlights:</b> Yes<BR><B>Ends: Members End, City End<BR><B>Home Team:</b> Northern Districts<BR><B>Test History:</b> 13 Tests; 5 home wins; 2 away wins; 6 draws<BR><B>Last 10 Tests:</b> 5 home wins; 1 away win; 4 draws<BR>Last 10 tosses:</b> 3 batted first (1 win, 1 draw, 1 defeat); 7 bowled first (3 wins, 3 draws, 1 defeats)
<B>Overview</b>
Seddon Park is a picturesque cricket ground close to Hamilton city centre. With just 10000 spectators able to fit into the collection of stands and embankments, the ground has a friendly, village-green vibe that is rare in the modern game.
An excellent pitch usually makes for decent cricket, although the combination of the wicket and the weather makes draw quite common; 46 per cent of Tests here have ended all-square.
<B>Last time out</b>
The last Test here was almost four years ago, when New Zealand and South Africa played out a high-scoring draw. Gary Kirsten made 137 and Jacques Kallis 92 as the Proteas amassed 459 after Graeme Smith won the toss and batted first.
Jacob Oram's unbeaten century helped the Black Caps recover from 225-6 to 509 all out and a 50-run lead. But despite taking a couple of quick wickets in the South Africa second innings, New Zealand couldn't dislodge Kallis (150*) and the game was over as a contest long before Smith declared on 313-4. In the 16 overs that remained New Zealand progressed to 39-1 before the handshakes were offered.
None of the bowlers particularly enjoyed their work, although Shaun Pollock did pick up four wickets in the New Zealand first innings.
<B>Happy Hunting Ground</b>
New Zealand's powerful all-rounder <B>Jacob Oram</b> is definitely a fan of Hamilton. That century against South Africa has helped him to an average of 88.50 with the bat, while he recorded his Test-best figures of 4-41 here and has an overall average with the ball of 22.30 – a significant improvement on a career mark in the low 30s.
<B>Daniel Vettori</b> also passes the all-rounder's test at this ground, averaging over 40 with the bat (thanks largely to a Test-best 137* here against Pakistan in 2003) and 33 with the ball. Both are improvements on his career levels, although the difference with the bat is rather more significant – almost 14 runs per dismissal higher in Hamilton than overall.
<B>Stephen Fleming</b>, incidentally, has a record here that is remarkably consistent with his overall career. He's scored 682 runs in 11 Tests in Hamilton (6875 in 108 overall) at an average of 40.11 (39.73). And having played just over one in ten of his Tests in Hamilton, he's scored one of his nine centuries here. Spooky.
As for England's players, this will be a new experience for them; the Three Lions have never before played a Test at Seddon Park.

<B>Weather Forecast:</b>
Not perfect. The first day could certainly be a showery one, with cloudy skies likely to be the norm throughout the five days in Hamilton.

<B>Conclusion:</b>
Given a ground that where almost half the games have ended in stalemate, two teams who look stronger with willow in hand rather than leather and a vaguely dodgy forecast, the draw looks an excellent shout. Neither side would be too disappointed, I'd wager, to take the series on to Wellington all-square.
The main reason for so many draws is the lastability of the Seddon Park surface. Indeed, the average runs per wicket is – unusually – highest in the fourth innings.
High scores should be on the cards as well; the last two matches here have seen 400 play 500 on first innings and a similar situation wouldn't be a shock this time around. More surprising would be for the game to follow the pattern of the India game here in 2003; neither side passed 100 in their first innings – a first in Test cricket – and New Zealand eventually limped to a four-wicket win chasing just 160 in a match that barely reached the fourth day despite the first day-and-a-half being washed out.
<B>Dave Tickner</B>

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