Cardiff pitch may yet pass Test – but bad feelings linger

Stephen Brenkley
Tuesday 07 July 2009 00:00

As two experts gazed earnestly at the Cardiff Test pitch yesterday the doom-mongers anticipated the worst. They knelt down to prod the surface, looked suspiciously at an area around a good length and were rapt, deep in conversation for 30 minutes.

But after all that Chris Wood, the England and Wales Cricket Board's pitches inspector, and Keith Exton, the groundsman here, looked perfectly content. There were no last-minute alarms and the pitch, it is confidently expected, will play much as any other Test pitch. The doom-mongers may have to wait a little longer.

If so, the England and Wales Cricket Board and Glamorgan CCC may be relieved enough for senior officials to dance through the streets of Cardiff with daffodils in their mouths. There is much riding on the first Test of the 2009 Ashes series, not least the reputations of those who decided that such a prestigious match should be staged at the ground, then slightly ramshackle and little more than a park ground on which first-class cricket happened to be played.

The general astonishment engendered by the approval granted by the Major Match Group has barely diminished. It was agreed that the match would be played in Cardiff although it had never before staged a Test and the feeling remains that the main criterion was the £3.2m being offered by Glamorgan, heavily underwritten by the Welsh Assembly.

David Harker, the chief executive of Durham, was especially unhappy. He felt that his county had served its apprenticeship having successfully staged several low-key Tests. "We weren't competing on a level playing field," he said. "We pushed it as far as we could by bidding £1m and no other ground could have competed."

While the MMG acted independently their decision still delighted the ECB chairman at the time, David Morgan, a Welshman who had previously been chairman of Glamorgan and is now president of the International Cricket Council.

The change in ground is staggering to behold although it is reasonable to suppose, looking at the rows of bucket seats and the bland pavilion which would not look entirely out of place in any Moscow suburb, that the temptation to run an architectural design competition was resisted.

There have been pitfalls along the way. The long-serving chief executive, Mike Fatkin and the former groundsman Len Smith both left their posts. Paul Russell, the county club's chairman, who has transformed their fortunes off the field at least, has been purposeful in ensuring that everything will be ready.

The players are on a charm offensive. "It doesn't feel strange," said Kevin Pietersen. "We played against South Africa here last year." Actually they didn't because it rained. "We're looking forward to putting on a really positive performance for the Welsh public. We know how sports mad they are here."

Australia have played here before – in the ramshackle days of 2005 in a one-day match against Bangladesh. Australia lost. Maybe that was the thinking all along.

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