Ian Herbert: The travelling circus may be inclusive but it sells the spectacle of Test cricket short

Dress up your stadium however you want, but it doesn't give it the aura that makes it an opener's dream to see his name on the honours board

Yes, it's true that the Sri Lankans are getting through captains faster than Fabio Capello. And yes, we do now have an Andrew Strauss mini-crisis to manufacture some tension. But at times this summer's international cricket has felt like the biggest non-event since the George Davis liberation campaign did for the last day of the 1975 Ashes Headingley Test.

It's not the cricket that's the problem. If nothing else, this will always be the summer of Ian Bell's beautiful little innings at Lord's. It's the location. The Hampshire Rose Bowl is beautiful – all that billowing white fabric over the pavilion end stand and the bucolic southern English hills rolling away in the distance – but, at the risk of signing up to the Geoffrey Boycott school of yesteryear, it just doesn't feel like a landscape of international cricket. England demands a cauldron, not a rose bowl.

If it's the natural environment you seek, then go to Newlands in Cape Town. If it's an atmosphere befitting England's current strides toward becoming the top Test nation, then it must be the theatres which carry some of the thrilling memories of cricketing legend: Old Trafford (the Laker Test, July 1956, or Warne's "Ball of the Century" 37 years later); Trent Bridge (Allan Donald v Atherton, July 1998); Headingley (Botham v Australia, July 1981); Edgbaston (second Ashes Test, August 2005).

Cardiff, Chester-le-Street, Southampton – all fine places and there's something commendably inclusive about stadiums which place you so close to the action that you hear third man cursing the bowler's length. But intimacy is not the same as intensity. Dress up your stadium however you want – and the Emirates Durham ICG certainly sounds less genteel than the Riverside, Chester-le-Street – but it doesn't give it the aura that sends statisticians rooting for the record sixth-wicket stand on that turf or makes it an opener's dream to see his name on the honour board.

Spreading the matches around was supposed to make Test cricket more inclusive. But this summer will see no Tests north of Trent Bridge and, where once you knew that to visit the Test was to venture into the great inner-city stadiums, it's increasingly likely to be a trip out of town, like a visit to the baseball or B&Q. If the objection to all this might be that it's time to open up cricket to the next generations in Hampshire, Durham or South Glamorgan, then what is the most likely source of inspiration to those in the backstreets of Southampton: a day of Test cricket their parents can't afford or a thriving county cricket team down the road? Durham have managed both but Sussex has spawned a generation of Mushtaq Ahmeds without staging a Test.

When these new places joined the dash for a slice of Test cricket, it felt like enfranchisement; an end to the divine rights of the kings of cricket's establishment. But instead, the counties became prisoners; developing their grounds and suddenly mortgaged to that uncertain hope of winning a box office fixture which the elements and fates would hopefully not ruin.

It's a simple problem of mathematics, though. There are not enough Tests to go around. Glamorgan's costly bids for international matches, partly financed by the Welsh Assembly to general English irritation, have delivered the county's first losses in four years because its allocated T20 fixtures were shadowed by match-fixing allegations. Yorkshire has suggested it won't even bid for an Ashes Test in 2013 and 2016 because the financial gamble is too great.

And then there's Lancashire, a county brought to the verge of bankruptcy. The county's chief executive, Jim Cumbes, is an old swing bowler but has known few curveballs like those which have been served up by his attempts to redevelop Old Trafford to compete for Tests. The relatively easy part has been the re-establishment of the square on a north-south axis. Then came the unnerving legal battle over the £32m redevelopment of Old Trafford, which involves two new grandstands – taking capacity to 15,000 permanently and 25,000 for England matches. Two weeks today, Cumbes will go to the Court of Appeal to hear whether the property company Derwent Holdings, owner of the nearby White City retail park, has been successful in preventing Lancashire's development, which substantially depends on Tesco putting £21m into Old Trafford.

Cumbes, whose planning and legal bill is heading toward £2m, says 4 July is a "day of destiny". But here's the rub. Having gone to the brink to make their stadium a competitive Test venue, Lancashire still face ruination if they are denied a 2013 Ashes Test. For now, we can only hope they get by on their little Tesco Extra help.

The Australians are less indifferent to their cricketing theatres. The same venues – Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne – tend to feature on their Test roster, with Hobart a more regular addition. It's time for England to see sense, too, and return its Test to the best: Headingley and Old Trafford in the North, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge in the Midlands, Lord's and The Oval in London. Hampshire, whose initial Rose Bowl project costs of £18m have risen to over £30m, won't agree because they've placed their bet now. But when the Test bandwagon leaves town tomorrow and the rain perhaps clears, the locals may look at a County Championship First Division table featuring Hampshire at rock-bottom and wonder if it was all worthwhile.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor