Cricket-Relief, satisfaction as new test venue opens

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By Greg Stutchbury WELLINGTON, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Canterbury Cricket chief Lee Germon has run the gamut of emotions in the last three years as he fought to bring international cricket back to earthquake ravaged Christchurch, though quiet satisfaction is what he will feel on Friday. New Zealand and Sri Lanka open their two-test series on Friday at the country's newest test venue, Hagley Oval, a purpose-built ground on the vast green space of Hagley Park on the western edges of Christchurch's central city. It will be the first international cricket match in New Zealand's second-largest city since the Feb. 22, 2011 earthquake that devastated Christchurch and killed almost 200 people. "To get that first ball bowled on the first day of the test match will be a huge sense of satisfaction," Germon, a former New Zealand wicketkeeper and captain, told Reuters in a telephone interview. "To me, this is a true test match ground," he added of the venue, which sold out its 8,000-capacity for the first day. "When I walked out there, as a past player, it made me feel like playing the game. "The feedback we have seen from guys who have seen grounds all around the world, has been hugely positive. "To me that's really satisfying." After the test, the ground will be switched to one-day mode with New Zealand playing Sri Lanka on Jan. 11, when its facilities and match-day logistics and services will be tested before it is handed over to Cricket World Cup organisers, who will build temporary seating to take the capacity to 20,000. The ground will host three pool matches in the Feb. 14-March 29 tournament, including the opener between New Zealand and Sri Lanka. While the earthquake destroyed the main international rugby and cricket venue at Lancaster Park, Germon had been looking for a new site for test matches in line with the move to boutique-sized venues in New Zealand. They settled on redeveloping a site on the southern side of Hagley Park, which is dotted with sporting fields and facilities, tree-lined walking trails and bike paths and the city's Botanic Gardens and where cricket had been played for more than 150 years, before they ran into opposition. Canterbury Cricket had to fight an expensive battle at New Zealand's Environment Court with a protest group, who were against what they saw as the possible commercialisation of the public green space in the devastated city. Germon, however, said once the court granted them consent to develop the ground last year and the work began, opponents began to come around. "The biggest positive has been the way the ground has been embraced by cricketers and the public," he said. "The best thing for me is that we have had a number of people come and say that it looks like it has been there for years, it fits nicely into the ground, it makes sense and we're really pleased we have got it." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)