Black Caps and Bay Oval – the best yet to come

Tauranga's favourite son Trent Boult starring at the Bay Oval.

Around 12,000 people packed into the Bay Oval for the Black Caps’ two One Day Internationals with Sri Lanka, and left smiling with their day out in the sun and two wins for the home team.

Yet there remains a feeling the best is still to come – both for the highly-regarded venue, and for its most prestigious tenants.

Sri Lanka proved to be more tenacious competitors than many cricket pundits gave them credit for, but both matches still resulted in relatively comfortable wins for New Zealand – by 45 and 21 runs.

The challenges they faced were as much of their own making as of the visitors. Especially in the second encounter, when they dropped as many as six catches they would normally grab with ease.

Sri Lanka was ranked a lowly eighth in the world going into the series. They were a team looking for talent to put their hands up to build a settled combination around.

That will not be the case when India arrive later in the month.

So fans at the Bay Oval, rated by Sky Sports commentator and former Black Cap Simon Doull – who sees most of the cricketing world’s great grounds in his job – as amongst the best on the planet, can look forward to two true heavyweight contests during Auckland Anniversary weekend when Tauranga’s favourite son Kane Williamson and his boys are back in town to take on the Indians in two ODIs.

Virat Kholi’s star-studded team, full of confidence from their first ever test series win in Australia, is currently second in the ICC world ODI rankings, one spot ahead of the Black Caps. So it’s fair to say they will be a different proposition from Sri Lanka.

The home side will certainly not be comfortable favourites going in as they were in the Sri Lanka series.

In the Black Caps’ favour is the fact the Bay Oval has, during the last four-and-a-half years, become a favourite home ground for them.

Since hosting its first internationals in October 2014, when New Zealand Cricket set up a series against South Africa building up to the 2015 World Cup and were looking for a venue capable of hosting international cricket earlier in the season than ever before, the oval has staged 12 Black Caps matches.

Seven of them have resulted in Kiwi wins, four losses – including those first two against South Africa – and one a no result. That was against the West Indies, in the first of a T20 double-header last year. The Black Caps batted first and put on 102/4 in the 9 overs play possible, and would surely have taken an eighth win had it produced a result, especially as they went on to thrash the Windies by 119 runs two days later after posting 243/5.

The Bay Oval crowd can also expect to see more polish from their home team than they produced against Sri Lanka. Having smashed more than 300 in both matches – 371 in the first – batting doesn’t look like an issue, but the bowling and fielding have room for improvement. Ish Sodhi and local hero Trent Boult looked nailed down, but the remainder of the bowling line-up needs to be settled.

And they won’t be in any hurry to repeat that six-pack of butter-fingered catching.

The two ODIs against India at the Bay Oval start at 3pm on Saturday, January 26, and Monday, January 28.

Bay cricket supporters can also look forward to another Northern Knights appearance at the ground in the Burger King Super Smash, on Saturday, February 9 at 7.10pm.

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