Take a bow, Rose Bowl. You're not perfect yet but it's your day
Wednesday 15 June 2011
This could be the start of a magnificent adventure for the Rose Bowl. Tomorrow, it will become the 105th ground in the world to stage Test cricket, the 10th in England, the third new venue on this island in eight years.
For a form of the game that is fighting for its life and is assailed on all sides by young pretenders, it still remains the ultimate badge of honour for any cricketing arena. In the case of the Rose Bowl it goes beyond that – England versus Sri Lanka is a mere staging post. The intention, pure and simple, is that the Rose Bowl will become one of the great sporting grounds of the world.
While it might be heresy to say so, it already puts to shame other historic venues in England. The Rose Bowl is a breath of fresh 21st century air – not least because it is surrounded by open countryside – while other, illustrious, grounds that are laced into the fabric of the game lag behind.
Headingley, Old Trafford and Edgbaston are all fighting to stay in touch. Bold if belated renovations have been announced or have taken place at all three – they had to – but they lack the brio of the new place.
They should be wished well, because of all they have meant to English cricket, but there is an unmistakable sense on entering the Rose Bowl that you are walking into the future. Neither the Riverside in Durham, nor Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, the recent additions to Test grounds, can match its style.
It has come this far because the funding for Hampshire's new headquarters, substantially provided by the Lotteries Commission, was dependent on it being an international as well as domestic venue.
When Rod Bransgrove became Hamsphire's chairman at around the same time, he took his role as benefactor seriously. Bransgrove would admit that he has put noses out of joint in the past 10 years, but without his sense of purpose and hard-headed commercialism the ground would not be where it is today.
It is not perfect. For a start, it is unfinished and only when the 175-bedroom hotel and adjoining golf course are operating, due in 2013, will the Rose Bowl be completed in both commercial and construction senses.
The ground can also be a nightmare for spectators to leave, as many may discover in the next few days, and better road access is essential. But the harsh financial truth is that English cricket will be mightily stretched if it tries to keep the nine remaining Test grounds (Bramall Lane, Sheffield, staged one Test in 1903) provided with Test cricket every year.
Bransgrove said: "There is a suggestion that there is not enough Test cricket to go round because of all the Test match grounds, but my answer to that is that there isn't enough to go round all the grounds all the time.
"The fact is that, with the probable exception of Lord's, grounds shouldn't expect to stage a Test match every year. Alternate years would be perfectly acceptable to the Rose Bowl and I'm sure other grounds if they modified their business model."
Bransgrove's next desire is to stage an Ashes Test there in 2013, and he intends to submit an ambitious bid. He might be a generous benefactor but he has also ensured that Hampshire's business model will be viable long after he goes.
"You only have to look at the place to know it's much more than a domestic ground," he said. "It is a cricket theatre. A friend of mine calls it Planet Cricket." Tomorrow, Test cricket is landing on it. A brave new world.
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