In 1861, Wellington was expanding rapidly and debate was stirring about the make-up of the Town Belt. Central to the conversation was the establishment of a public reserve at Te Aro, at the ground that had come to be known as the Basin Reserve.
The Basin Reserve’s long association with cricket began on January 11 1868 when the Wellington Volunteers played the crew of the HMS Falcon. A low-scoring affair, the Falcon crew chased down the 38 runs they need to win with one wicket to spare. After the match, the umpire apologised to the players for the stony, thistle-covered ground. From there, cricketers invested heavily in the ground so, by the 1880s, the Basin Reserve was almost unrecognisable from a decade before; picket fences, the Caledonian Stand, and a vastly improved playing surface meant cricket was here to stay.
The original layout of the Basin Reserve was rectangular, large enough to fit two soccer fields. This meant that it was not uncommon for several club cricket matches to be played at the ground at once. It was a different story for big matches, when every inch of space was needed to fit the large crowds that would flock in. When Lillywhite’s All England XI visited in 1877, cricket was so popular in New Zealand that a holiday was proclaimed and schools closed for two days. Six weeks after playing at the Basin Reserve, the same All England side would feature in cricket’s first Test match, playing Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
New Zealand’s first Tests were played against England in 1930. After the visitors won the opening Test in Christchurch, the Basin Reserve hosted the second Test starting on January 30. Here, on his home ground, Wellington opening batsman Stewie Dempster made history with New Zealand’s first Test century. Moments later Jackie Mills, on debut, added his own as the pair put on an opening partnership of 276 – still New Zealand’s highest, for any wicket, against England. In 1969 another historic first century was scored here as Trish McKelvey hit 155* against England, New Zealand’s first women’s Test hundred.
Today, the Basin Reserve has seen more New Zealand Test matches, and Test victories, than any other ground. It has also been the venue for some of the most remarkable performances in our cricketing history; from JR Reid’s 15 sixes in a first-class innings, to Martin Crowe and Andrew Jones’ World Record partnership of 467 in 1991, and Brendon McCullum’s historic score of 302 in 2014.