For the second time in six years Cardiff has confounded sceptics by being awarded an Ashes Test match. The schedule for the 2015 series, announced yesterday, confirmed that for the first time England will not play Australia in the north.
At this rate, Sophia Gardens, these days known as the Swalec Stadium, will become a traditional home for Ashes Tests between England and Australia with Manchester and Leeds part of a long forgotten golden age where the game used to be watched by thousands. If nothing else, the selection of Cardiff enables cricket’s national controlling body to live up to its full title: the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The decision was greeted with dismay and annoyance in some quarters yesterday but contentious though it seems none of the northern venues – Durham is the third which staged a highly successful Ashes Test last year – placed a bid for a 2015 match. Manchester decided to opt out believing it would not be successful after staging a match last year and Yorkshire, who do not yet have catering rights at Headingley, decided it would be too expensive. Durham, struggling to make ends meet, were not in the running this time.
It is a huge pity and a real concern that the old order seems to have shifted so much but it reflects too the hard commercial realities of the modern professional game. At least Headingley is staging one of the two Tests against New Zealand next year. In 2011 none of the seven Test matches involving England that summer was played north of Nottingham.
An ECB spokesman, pointing out that two of the matches in the 2013 Ashes were played in the north, said: “The major match group, which conducts its business independently, takes into account several factors including geography. It is possible that when the 2019 Ashes are played northern grounds will be represented.”
The choice of Cardiff again may still upset those who think that the ECB has too many international venues. But in 2009 it threw up a splendid occasion and a humdinger, mostly played in clement weather with England, having been outplayed for most of the five days, hanging on grimly for a draw with nine wickets down in their second innings while only 13 runs ahead.
The ground will again stage the first Test with two others in London, the second at Lord’s and the fifth at The Oval, with the third at Edgbaston in Birmingham and the fourth at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. Whatever the rationale it obviously creates a north-south divide which cannot be healthy for the game. All Ashes series should have a spread of matches from top to bottom.
It is likely that Headingley will certainly stage one in 2019 when it will have the catering rights again, with Old Trafford sure to be a strong contender. With London virtually and rightly assured of two Tests, that may leave the middle squeezed. By having so many venues and with the Ashes being far and away the biggest draw, the ECB will never be able to please everybody. Except perhaps in Wales.
The former leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed has left his role as England spin-bowling coach to take up a similar role with Pakistan.
Test card: England 2015 schedule
vs New Zealand
21-25 May First Test (Lord’s)
29 May-2 June Second Test (Headingley)
8-12 July First Test (Cardiff)
16-20 July Second Test (Lord’s)
29 July-2 Aug Third Test (Edgbaston)
6-10 Aug Fourth Test (T Bridge)
20-24 Aug Fifth Test (Oval)