New Zealand wicketkeeper BJ Watling kept for just a session, but his work for the day was far from over. In the evening, Watling had to flip through the list of car rentals, find a sparkling white limousine, buy the most expensive champagne in town, a case of Cuban cigars, and drive his bowlers to the top of Mount Victoria, the highest peak in Wellington, a two-kilometre ride from the Basin Reserve. It’s how New Zealand celebrate their Test wins at the venue.
But not all could cram into the car — just the bowlers and the wicketkeeper – which means Watling could only make space for man of the match Tim Southee, his trusted accomplice Trent Boult, who ripped through India’s batting line-up in the second innings, impressive debutant Kyle Jamieson and workaholic Colin de Grandhomme. When the night sets in, they would uncork the champagne and raise a toast from the top of the mountain, from where they could get a panoramic view of the city, and its two cricket stadiums, Basin Reserve and Sky, separated by 16km.
Though the Basin Reserve has a history of 90 years, the tradition of the limousine ride started as late as 1998, when New Zealand beat India by four wickets in a thrilling Boxing Day Test, with Simon Doull taking seven wickets in the first innings and Dion Nash three, including those of Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin. “It was Nash I think who came up with the idea, a spontaneous idea. Mount Victoria is the highest point in the city and at night, it looks sparkling. Then out of a whim, they borrowed a limo and drove several rounds around the Basin Reserve before zooming off to the top of the mountain,” says former first-class cricketer and historian Don Neely.
But why not the batsmen? The limo can accommodate an entire team and even the support staff. But it’s just the bowlers and the keeper. “The bowlers, you know, share a special bond, and of course, the ‘keeper is their best friend. So in that team, they always hung around together, Adam (Parore), Doully and Nash and the others. And they did something cheeky, and it became a tradition. It was a symbol of togetherness, a mutual thanksgiving,” elaborates former wicketkeeper Ian Smith.
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What began as a cheeky celebration evolved into a hallowed tradition, a stamp of approval for any up-and-coming bowler. In his autobiography, Looking Back, Shane Bond puts it among his most unforgettable experiences. “I was initiated into another that made me feel that I am not a fly-by-nighter. The self-styled engine room of the team and the wicketkeeper would call for a limo to pick us up from the hotel. The first stop would be a bottle shop, then we will take a few laps around the Basin, the home of cricket in Wellington and one of the biggest traffic roundabouts in the world, before ending up with the champagne on top of Mount Victoria. It’s a nice idea and the engine room is highly sought after,” he has written.
But not all bowlers are allowed entry. In 2002, when they again beat India, batting all-rounder Scott Styris was in the lobby, all dressed up and waiting for the limo. Then Daniel Vettori and the bowlers turned up and told him to bugger off. Styris, the story goes, was gutted.
It’s entirely the wicketkeeper’s discretion to pick his limo-mates, and often he would be on the wheel. They mostly prefer the night when the mount wouldn’t be crowded, though it could get windy.
However, for four years there was no limo ride, for New Zealand didn’t win a single Test at the Basin Reserve from 2009 to 2013, a span in which they lost three and drew four of the seven Tests. Since then, they have won five of the nine Tests. And the limo rides have become more frequent. Watling and the engine room must have had a quiet evening atop the mount and a few crazy laps around the Basin Reserve.
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