One day the roof may be raised

Cardiff's indoor experiment offers a glimpse of an alternative world and a new market

By Stephen Fay
Monday 13 January 2014 03:53
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Nasser Hussain won the toss and decided to bowl. Stephen Fleming seemed well pleased, although the Rest of the World had beaten the Brits easily enough on Friday night batting second. Saeed Anwar and Azhar Mahmood opened the batting against Martin Saggers of Kent. This was the real thing, surely.

Except that we were sitting in a covered stadium watching cricket being played under lights on a football pitch at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Some spectators were so close to the wicket that they had to be warned to keep their eye on the ball at all times and not to try to catch it. Saeed was caught by Robert Croft in the first over, a skier to the fine-leg boundary.

The players were real enough. Dominic Cork opened at the other end. "Watch this one swing," said Cork over the intimate intercom that allows spectators to listen in on the players. Nathan Astle biffed Cork straight to the boundary, then edged him through gully for six.

This is Power Cricket. There were a lot more people watching on TV than in the sparcely populated stadium. It is jazzed-up cricket, but you can't say it isn't the real thing.

The power behind Power Cricket is a marketing company, previously involved in horse racing, called DP Cricket, those being the initials of Sarah Dunster and Philip Pride. They are under no illusions. This is cricket played by stars principally for an audience which is still unfamiliar with the game. It is designed to meet the requirements of prime-time TV viewers: "They like fast action, incident and simplicity," says Pride.

They got it at the end of Friday's game, won by Nathan Astle, New Zealand's heavy hitter, scoring six, eight and four. The eight is a local rule giving bonus runs for a hit into the second tier of the stands. (For a 12, you have to raise the roof.) The appeal to TV is for a short game in which rain can't stop play.

The Millennium Stadium roof meets one requirement. (Ironically, they could have played with the roof open yesterday and on Friday.) The 5pm start dictates a finish at 10pm after each team has had a maximum of 30 overs in two innings. It's shorter than one-day cricket – a prelude to next summer's experiment with the 20-over slog.

The format is specifically designed to attract a new audience, which is why Barry Richards is among DP's advisers. He is the prophet for the inclusive game that appeals to kids. "Our plans are not to alienate anybody, but cricket can't rely on doing the same thing indefinitely," says Pride.

The budget is "around £500,000" and sponsorship by Pretemp, an employment agency, and Sky TV's contract cover about half the cost. The cricketers can't come cheap. Milling around in the foyer of their hotel were some legends of the game – Wasim Akram, looking fit; Muttiah Muralitharan, who loves the matting wicket because it's so familiar; Saeed Anwar, with a heavy black beard, who was wishing he was in Colombo for Pakistan's second innings against Australia; Aravinda de Silva, Mushtaq Ahmed, Shahid Afridi and the New Zealanders Fleming, Astle and Shane Bond.

The British players, drawn mainly from Glamorgan, Kent, Surrey and Essex, looked a little underpowered. The Brits' slogger was Matthew Fleming, theirs was Astle. It doesn't seem quite fair. But Pride insists they have not paid over the odds. "The fees are reasonably modest. They're very good value for money." They must be getting around £3,000 a pop. It is safe to assume, however, that Nasser Hussain's fee is less modest than James Foster's.

Dunster and Pride are putting in some of their own cash, too. They would have spent less if the crowd had been larger. They counted 4,000 on the first night, and though there were more yesterday evening, the noise of the spectators still echoes in the 70,000 stadium. It's partly location. "We love the Millennium Stadium, but we wish it were in London," says Pride.

There may be a market for short-form, all-star cricket. Maybe not. But we'll never know until it's tried.

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