David Lloyd: Grounds for concern as ECB prepares to dish out lucrative Tests
County Focus: There are not enough top-notch Test matches on offer to satisfy the nine grounds
Wednesday 08 June 2011
The real winners and losers in the high stakes game of allocating international matches will be known this September when the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announces its fixture schedule through to 2016. With two home Ashes series (2013 and 2015), the inaugural World Test Championship (semi-finals and final, also in 2013) and umpteen one-day and Twenty20 internationals to dish out, there are plenty of matches on the horizon; plenty, but still not enough to satisfy all nine grounds in the country hungry for Test cricket.
The MCC are already up in arms at having missed out on a second Test next summer, especially since it became clear that Glamorgan bid at least £400,000 less than their £1m offer to stage an early-season game against West Indies.
That means, for the first time, a touring team will play a series in England without appearing at the home of cricket. Although next season's programme is still to be announced, the ECB's major match group – an independent body under the chairmanship of Lord Morris of Handsworth – has recommended that West Indies should play at Trent Bridge, Edgbaston and Cardiff with the summer's second visitors, South Africa, appearing at Lord's, Headingley and The Oval.
Part of the problem next year is that England are only playing six – rather than their usual seven – Tests because of the Olympic Games. But the decision to support newcomers Cardiff (who are reckoned to have lost £1.5m as a result of this season's Test against Sri Lanka being hit by bad weather and poor ticket sales) rather than Lord's is still contentious.
Cash-strapped counties need every penny they can get from their annual share of international cricket proceeds – and Lord's always makes more money than any other ground. At least the game's most famous venue can look forward to a bumper 2013. As well as staging an Ashes Test, Lord's will also host a World Test Championship semi-final and the final itself. The MCC, though not immune from losing money themselves, are the only realistic candidates for the top-dollar platinum package. As for the rest, they must hope to get the balance right between winning attractive matches that will return a profit and not over-stretching themselves.
But the fact of the matter is there are not enough top-notch Test matches on offer to satisfy the nine grounds in England and Wales approved to host five-day cricket. There are bound to be some losers when the schedule from 2013 through to 2016 is announced at the end of this summer – and maybe a few more when the balance sheet is examined after that period. One county, Yorkshire, has been so shaken by past losses that it is not prepared to speculate on an Ashes Test in either 2013 or 2015, preferring to concentrate limited resources on a smaller outlay for less glamorous internationals.
Yorkshire recorded a £2m loss for 2010, thanks in part to their ill-fated gamble to bid for the homeless Pakistan v Australia Test. The county thought the game would attract big crowds but very few people turned up and, as a result, chairman and chief executive, Colin Graves, announced earlier this year there would be no bid to bring Ashes cricket to Headingley in 2013 or 2015.
Despite the recent experiences of Yorkshire and Glamorgan, Test cricket in this part of the world is still well supported. Even here, though, the idea of trying the oldest form of the international game under floodlights is gaining support. Hugh Morris, managing director of England cricket, declared himself "open-minded" about a possibility which is being actively investigated by the ICC.
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