ECB stand firm on May Test matches

West Indies tour defended as part of plan to help England regain the Ashes
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The Independent Online

The real reason for arranging a Test series in early May which virtually nobody is watching and few more care about was revealed last night. It was designed to enhance Ravi Bopara's Test career.

Not only his, of course, but to assist the development of the England team in an Ashes summer. It is nothing to do with the pursuit of profit. An international schedule which began on 6 May and ends on 20 September was put in place solely for the good of cricket in general and England in particular.

Just as most people were thinking the reverse might be true, David Collier, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, put them right. As the rain washed out the second day of the second Test between England and West Indies he not only defended the schedule but implied it was the only possible approach.

"I think 2009 as a summer is different from most summers that we normally have," he said. "We conservatively estimate that 1.3 million people are going to come through the gates to watch international cricket this summer. That's very nearly double the 750,000 to 800,000 that we normally get.

"Now I think that it would have been wrong not to have any Test matches prior to us playing in an Ashes series. I think people would have asked why are we giving Australians an advantage when we have played no Test match cricket, no four-day cricket."

Collier spoke with a straight face and a profound conviction. He did not quite say so but he was casting England as the saviour of Test cricket and his board as the men who were doing the England team a huge favour.

"You're speaking from purely a commercial point of view," he said as if nothing so tacky as Mammon ever crossed the ECB's thought processes. "We think there is a cricketing argument that you want to play matches. We believe Test cricket is very much the pinnacle. We have said that and we will continue to say that."

And then he invoked England's new No 3. Ask not what Bopara can do for us, ask what we can do for Bopara.

"Look at young Ravi, he obviously had an opportunity to score a third Test hundred here. Would it have been beneficial for him to be thrown straight into an Ashes Test match or would it be beneficial for him to have the opportunity of a couple more Test matches? That's a judgement call, we accept that, but we believe that on balance we would have been criticised had we not given people the opportunity."

So it was Ravi they had in mind all along. That and the good of Test cricket, which the ECB saw as ever as the pinnacle. Indeed, so enamoured of it are the ECB that next summer they intend to schedule eight Test matches in England and still give the national team a three-week break.

England will play two Tests against Bangladesh, for which inverted commas may be needed, and probably four against Pakistan. The other two will be between Pakistan and Australia.

As Collier justifiably pointed out, the ECB had been tremendously successful marketing Test cricket. But he did not say whether the 2010 programme would start in March and end in November. "If you talk to the international grounds, they are desperate for content," he said. That is one idea. On the subject of cricket schedules, there are times when it might be more useful talking to a brick wall.