Perhaps one day a legend will be told about the day Napier City Council staff stopped the sun.
Because these modern-day Maui achieved just that on Friday night when they successfully erected a giant shade sail over McLean Park, blocking once-and-for-all the rā that has plagued top-level cricket at the ground in the past few seasons.
For 37 minutes in January 2019, Napier became something of a laughing stock for a billion cricket fans as sunstrike forced India’s much-vaunted top order back to the changing sheds.
The umpires decided the glaring sun peeking over the Chapman Stand at the western end of the ground was dangerous to those facing 135km/h-plus bowling.
Tim Southee offered Virat Kohli, who was in the middle at the time, his sunglasses.
In a less kind gesture, then Napier mayor Bill Dalton told cricketers to harden up and face up anyway.
Then in December that pesky sun struck again, this time halting play briefly as the Black Caps batsmen took on Pakistan’s bowling attack.
Napier City Councillor Richard McGrath said an attitude shift at the council table had prompted the trial.
“It was a collective decision that it’s time to do something – let’s have a go and see if we can actually solve this problem.”
Enter Napier City Council’s director of city services Lance Titter, who helped organise a crane that can lift the 12 metre by 12 metre shade sail up to 47 metres in the air, well above the stands.
It’s propped up by two beams – the top weighed down by two tonnes of weights and the bottom by a single tonne – and tied down in an eight-tie system to prevent a significant gust knocking it over.
Titter said the sail was positioned by standing in the middle of the pitch and using a smartphone app that explains where the sun will set on any given day of the year.
That app made all the difference, he said. From a first trial on Thursday, the day before the game, to Friday’s match, the shade sail had to be shifted 16 metres to take into account the day-to-day change in the sun’s path.
McGrath described it as “old school thinking with a modern twist” and was delighted with the result.
“It was cloudy all day and then right at the very moment it was required, the sun came out.”
McGrath said he’d not heard from the umpires or players about how they’d felt the trial had gone.
Regardless, the Central Districts batsmen, including Ross Taylor who smote 65 off 36 balls to lead the Stags a 30-run victory over the Canterbury Kings, seemed to enjoy it.
McGrath said the council could not control whether New Zealand Cricket picked the ground for future internationals, but the sunstrike factor should no longer weigh against McLean Park in those decisions.
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