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July 28, 2014
Rod Bransgrove, the Hampshire chairman, hopes that modest ticket sales for the India Test will not deter the ECB from allocating an Ashes match to the Ageas Bowl in 2019.
Hampshire are set to receive financial help from the ECB after the India game - only the second Test the ground has hosted - was scheduled to start on a Sunday, the first Test to do so in the UK.
While first day ticket sales were strong, the remaining days are far weaker, with the ECB accepting that the start day and the packed schedule have done nothing to assist sales.
But Bransgrove, who has saved the club from insolvency and overseen the development of its new home, believes the stadium deserves an Ashes Test as it bids to prove itself "the best ground outside London".
"There's no secret I think this ground warrants and deserves an Ashes Test match," Bransgrove said. "It's a burden being the only ground in this country which has never been awarded an Ashes Test. That's a monkey that I want off our back and that's what we're working towards.
"Obviously marketing this game was difficult because it's a different day. Traditionally we rely very heavily on corporate sales, which are virtually non-existent at the weekend, so we knew we had something of a handicap.
"I still remember where I was when I was told it was starting on a Sunday. It was August 25, 2013 and I was in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. We all knew it was going to be a challenge. When we bid for the game, there was an assumption that it would start on Thursday."
Bransgrove has been assured that modest ticket sales won't count against Hampshire's bids for future matches.
"In fairness we've been helped by ECB, and the help is dependent on how close we got to our original forecasts of attendance for the first three days. They're helping financially in the event that we have a significant shortfall on attendance, which is likely. They've acknowledged the difficulties of selling a game from Sunday to Wednesday."
As things stand, only one Test series - a five-Test Ashes - is scheduled for the English summer of 2019, though England will also host the World Cup. With the ECB having staging agreements with two clubs - Yorkshire and Surrey - that guarantee them Tests in 2019 and with Lord's sure to host another, it leaves half-a-dozen other venues - Southampton, Cardiff, Nottingham, Birmingham, Durham and Manchester - vying for the remaining two games. While it is just about possible that another Test - possibly against Ireland or Afghanistan - could be squeezed into a busy summer, there is no substitute - either financially or in terms of status - with hosting an Ashes match.
|"Our aim has always been to make the Ageas Bowl the best ground outside London. Just as the best shows go to the best theatres in London, I think we should be competing by being the best."|
Although the Ageas Bowl, which hosted its first Test in 2011 when Sri Lanka were the visitors, is scheduled to stage several limited-overs matches over the next few years, it does not currently have any further Tests allocated to it having missed out in recent allocations.
"We were unsuccessful in the last bidding process which was very disappointing," Bransgrove said. "Since then we've looked seriously at ourselves and the area we failed on which was legacy. I didn't really see that we fell short; we had provided a great legacy here building a great ground and making sure the local club survived. But we've done a lot more now with our charity, setting up the learning centre and the boxing club to make an impact on the local communities.
"Our aim has always been to make the Ageas Bowl the best ground outside London. We see this game as another opportunity to demonstrate what we can do and, just as the best shows go to the best theatres in London, I think we should be competing by being the best."
Bransgrove views the India Test as "the biggest milestone" on the journey of Hampshire from impoverished county club to major Test match venue, but admits the role of chairman has become far more all-encompassing than he could have imagined. Not only has he invested more than £8m of his own money into the club - money that he knows he will never see again - but he has spent years embroiled in political battles with the ECB and fighting for planning permission, funding assistance and myriad other challenges that could hardly have been envisaged when he took on the role in 2000. It is no surprise that he says he has "fallen out of love" with cricket administration.
"It's not been a wholly enjoyable experience," he admitted. "It has, at different times, been an obsession, a business, and a battle for me. It's been everything and, along some pretty low days, there have been some wonderful highs. I don't expect to recoup the money I've spent. Profit was never the motivation for me.
"I can't even remember the beginning now. I think there was a horse in a field in the area they are playing now - I have a picture of it somewhere - but I am proud and delighted of what we've achieved. To host an Ashes Test would be the ultimate. It would feel as if we've had been accredited and accepted."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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