Rivals left stunned as Cardiff is awarded Ashes Test

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The Independent Online

The Hampshire chairman, Rod Bransgrove, led a chorus of outrage yesterday at the news that Sophia Gardens in Cardiff is to host an Ashes Test between England and Australia in 2009.

Glamorgan's headquarters pipped Lancashire's Old Trafford and Durham's Riverside for the plum fixture and left Bransgrove and others in the cricket world stunned.

The announcement by the England and Wales Cricket Board yesterday followed an endorsement by the board's Major Match Group of three-year staging agreements for Bristol, Cardiff, Chester-Le-Street in Durham, Old Trafford and Hampshire's Rose Bowl from 2007 to 2009.

Bransgrove said: "I am still in shock. I was told in a telephone conference last night [Wednesday] with David Collier, the ECB chief executive, and David Morgan, the ECB chairman. I was so stunned I couldn't recall the second half of the conversation." Hampshire had initially been bidding to stage an Ashes Test, but with a few doubts about the state of the square at the Rose Bowl, withdrew from the competition.

Bransgrove said: "We stepped aside to make way for Durham, and I expected them to get the Test. We felt it was right they got one. They had shown they could stage Test matches after hosting the Test between England and Bangladesh at the Riverside last summer. But Lord's giveth and Lord's taketh away.

"I am angry and deeply disappointed. Quite clearly the 'W' in the ECB is silent, but powerful."

The award of so lucrative a fixture to the Principality will certainly raise eyebrows around the country.

Lancashire, who missed out on an Ashes test in 2001, will feel the financial pinch. "To say we're disappointed is an understatement," said their chief executive, Jim Cumbes. "It is a massive kick in the teeth for the North-West. The decision has been a commercial one. We stretched ourselves to the limit to make the best possible bid we could, but Cardiff were into figures we couldn't possibly match.

"The biggest disappointment is that in 2001 we were told we would have Test matches through to 2010 which included two Ashes Tests, one in 2005 and one in 2009."

Durham have been awarded a Test for the West Indies series next year, but their chairman, Clive Leach, said: "Obviously we are hugely disappointed at the outcome of the decision."

Bransgrove stepped down from the ECB's management board earlier this year to be replaced by the Glamorgan chairman, Paul Russell. This increased the Welsh presence at Lord's, because the ECB chairman is David Morgan, a former chairman of Glamorgan. Also, the ECB performance director is Hugh Morris, the former Glamorgan captain and opener.

The award of the Test to Sophia Gardens is conditional upon a £7.5m redevelopment of Sophia Gardens to take the capacity up to 15,543 seats - just over the ECB minimum requirement for international capacities - and Glamorgan's planning application goes before Cardiff City Council on 10 May.

It is unlikely that the plans will be thrown out, since the Glamorgan bid has received backing from the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh Tourist Board and the city council.

Russell said: "This is an historic day for cricket in Wales. When the Major Match Group's inspection team visited Glamorgan, they were bowled over by the sheer enthusiasm of so many people to bring Test cricket to Wales.

"The redeveloped Sophia Gardens will allow Cardiff to become one of the few major cities in the world to host world-class events in the world's three major sports: cricket, football and rugby."

Mike Fatkin, the Glamorgan chief executive, said: "This is fantastic news, probably the greatest in the club's history since they were accorded first-class status and admitted to the County Championship in 1921, and it ranks alongside their Championship titles, as well as winning the one-day league."

Glamorgan captain Robert Croft added: "I know that this news will provide cricket in Wales and Glamorgan in particular with a massive boost. This will inspire young cricketers to follow Simon Jones and become the Test cricketers of the future."

In addition to the Test match, Cardiff will also stage its first one-day international this summer when Pakistan play England on 30 August.

The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff already stages Test rugby and has hosted major domestic football matches, including the FA Cup final, during the rebuilding of Wembley.

The Rose Bowl, which has been built and developed with millionaire Bransgrove's fortune, is again likely to be restricted to one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals, which will be determined in a further meeting next month.

The Oval, Edgbaston, Headingley and Lord's are the other venues for the five-Test 2009 Ashes series.

How Sophia Gardens shapes up

Sophia Gardens Cardiff

Capacity - 5,500 becoming 15,543.

Will stage first one-day international - England v Pakistan - on 30 August

Old Trafford Manchester

Capacity - 19,000

Number of Tests - 70

Years a Test ground - 122 (First Test 1884 - England v Australia)

Trent Bridge Nottingham

Capacity - 15,350

Number of Tests - 52

Years a Test ground - 107 (First Test 1899 - England v Australia)

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