Sri Lanka’s love affair with the Basin Reserve

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WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 05: L to R, Prasanna Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Lahiru Thirimanne and Dimuth Karunaratne of Sri Lanka celebrate the wicket of James Neesham of New Zealand during day three of the Second Test match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka at Basin Reserve on January 5, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

In the lead up to the opening Test match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand, there’s been quite a bit of talk about how the Basin Reserve wicket is going to be a green top where the home team’s three pronged seam attack of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner could create problems for the Sri Lankan batsmen. But very few have realized that Basin Reserve is one of the few places where Sri Lanka have had quite a bit of success away from home.

The first double hundred by a Sri Lankan away from home was scored at the Basin Reserve. There’s a wonderful story about how Aravinda made that double hundred. The former great during The Papare’s legends interview, which will be put out shortly, explained some remarkable things that happened the day before he scored the double hundred.

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Prior to the Basin Reserve Test match, there was an ODI in Auckland. Aravinda’s sister Araliya used to live in there in those days. When the brother visited her for dinner, Araliya had insisted that Aravinda should go back to the hotel without getting late as he had a game the next morning. So Aravinda was back in the hotel by 8:30 pm and went to bed soon afterwards. The next day he was out for a first ball duck.

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In the first Test at Basin Reserve, Sri Lanka had bowled out New Zealand for 174 but had lost two early wickets. Aravinda was not out on zero with Asanka Gurusinha on 17 not out. He was keen not to repeat the mistakes of Auckland and instead of going to bed early, spent the night socializing with friends and had little sleep. Importantly the next morning, he had the adrenaline flowing and went onto score 200 in a day.

His 267 in Wellington remained the highest score by a Sri Lankan for 16 years until Sanath Jaysuriya broke it in 1997.

Basin Reserve was also the place for the inaugural Sri Lanka versus South Africa clash after the Proteas were readmitted to the sporting arena. The teams met in a 1992 World Cup clash and Sri Lanka won with one ball to spare in a game that went down to the wire.

The most famous win at the Basin Reserve of course came 12 years ago as Sri Lanka came from behind to square a two match Test series. Having lost a close game in Christchurch (where the infamous Muralitharan run out by Brendon McCullum took place), Sri Lanka recorded a fine 217 run win in the second Test.

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Kumar Sangakkara with a classy unbeaten 156 in the first innings set the game up and the Sri Lankans found an unlikely hero in the second essay in Chamara Silva, who posted an unbeaten 152. Silva, who had made his Test debut in the previous game, had come into the second Test under severe pressure as he had collected a pair in Christchurch.

Sri Lanka backed the young batsman knowing his potential and Silva’s audacious stroke play against the likes of Shane Bond, James Franklin and Chris Martin was a treat to watch. Murali ended up with a match bag of ten for 118, the best figures at the Basin Reserve by a spinner.

The last time a Sri Lankan scored a double hundred was also at the Basin Reserve with Kumar Sangakkara achieving the milestone in 2015.

All in all, there’s no need to panic about the grass at the Basin Reserve as traditionally Sri Lankans have done well here.

Bit of trivia about Basin Reserve

New Zealand’s second Test match was played at the Basin Reserve in 1930, a few days after Lancaster Park in Christchurch hosted the country’s inaugural Test against England. This ground in Wellington is basically a roundabout where the traffic is as heavy as at the Union Place in Colombo. Despite the heavy traffic movement around, Basin Reserve is one of the most beautiful grounds in the world with Mount Victoria and Mount Cook in the backdrop.

There’s a cricket museum within the ground with some valuable items on show. Fans are charged five New Zealand Dollars for entry. There’s a quite a bit of history related to the ground which is protected by an act of Parliament and it is only sporting venue among the national heritage list.

With the Basin Reserve able to accommodate only around 12,000 fans, staging one-day cricket at the venue became an issue. Hence in 2005 white ball cricket was shifted elsewhere to the city with the Westpac Stadium, that can host about 35,000 fans, given an opportunity. That is where most of the games of the last World Cup were played including the epic Sri Lanka versus England first round match.

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