England v NZ, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 1st day May 24, 2013

Yorkshire warn against north-south split

Yorkshire have a new man at the helm and he is quickly confronting the challenges of hosting international cricket, but knows the club also has to help itself

Yorkshire's new chief executive, Mark Arthur, less than a month into the job, has dared to voice the fears of cricket in the north of England by warning the ECB that they must resist all temptation to maximise revenue by concentrating all their most prestigious international cricket in the south-east for short-term economic gain.

Arthur also dared to suggest that the growing number of international grounds had reached "unsustainable" levels. There are 10 international grounds in England and Wales while Somerset have been granted approval to achieve the specifications necessary to become an eleventh.

It can safely be assumed that the opinions of his chairman, Colin Graves, recently elected as vice chairman of the ECB, are in sync. It might also be that any Somerset application would come under fierce examination from northern counties down the line.

"Eleven international grounds is unsustainable in my opinion," Arthur said. "There is a finite amount of international cricket and to spread it amongst 11 international grounds and expect all those 11 grounds to be at the same level as top international grounds around the world - it doesn't work does it?

"What are we all after? A sustainable game of cricket at club, county and international level. We all have to work together for that balance."

Arthur, a former chief executive at Nottinghamshire and at Nottingham Forest, insisted that a geographical balance should also be part of the ECB's assessment of how to allocate matches, so ensuring that cricket remained a truly national game to the long-term benefit of the game as a whole and the England team.

"One of the best things that happened to football was the reconstruction of Wembley because England took their games around the country," he said. "For a period of time, people were able to watch England from various parts of the country.

"One of the unique factors of cricket in England is that it does get taken around the country. It is important to understand that not everybody has the spending power of people in the south-east. I think that has to be factored in by the [ECB] when they are allocating matches. There is a finite amount of money that you can charge in the provinces."

The north of England has endured two years of discouraging weather as well as suffering the brunt of the UK's economic downturn. There are fears of gulf streams moving south and revenue streams moving with them. The difficulty of fostering a commitment to cricket in this period should not be under-estimated. At times, it has been hellish.

Yorkshire went wild for their two homegrown Headingley debutants, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow on Friday, but sadly it was only the Yorkshire weather. The morning drive to Headingley was a story of overturned lorries and fallen trees as heavy rain was joined by howling winds. Shortly before 4pm, the umpires abandoned play.

Better weather is forecast over the Bank Holiday weekend, and Root and Bairstow can still hope to be acclaimed in glorious sunshine, but after the washout of the one-day international against West Indies last summer, these are nervous times for international cricket in the north of England.

Durham, the only international ground more northerly than Headingley, have relinquished two matches because they feared they had over-bid and the risk of heavy losses was too great.

The ECB's latest strategic plan, announced last week, guarantees there will be no regional shift to the south, but that guarantee largely, if not entirely, covers matches already awarded.

"The policy of the Board is to promote the game by staging international cricket on a broad geographical base," it states. "The game appreciates that a number of venues have found it difficult to remain competitive in staging Test cricket. The Board will seek to ensure sustainability at venues by reviewing and communicating policy regarding Major Matches through 2019, increasing the differentiation between Test and ODI status."

Arthur is convinced that the one-nation approach must remain part of English cricket's DNA. "There could be a discord if you played all your top matches in the south. That would damage interest in the England team.

"As more and more money comes from TV, the reliance on income through the turnstiles becomes less and less important, so, de facto, the responsibility becomes to provide the wallpaper so it looks good for those people paying most of the money."

Arthur recognises that Yorkshire, who with Lancashire are responsible for almost 25% of recreational cricket in the country, have to improve their performance.

"Trent Bridge has proved that people always want tickets for an event they can't get a ticket for," he said. "We need to start selling out. We have to grow our base of cricket supporters who want to come to Headingley. We have to improve the capacity of the ground. We have to improve the environment of the ground. The spectator experience when they first arrive at the gate is absolutely vital."

There is also a belated recognition within Yorkshire cricket that there is a disconnect between the county and many of those who profess to love it yet have also gradually become distanced from it.

This winter, Arthur will embark upon the biggest commitment to reconnect with the grassroots ever seen in Yorkshire cricket, making himself available to clubs and leagues four days a week throughout the off-season. Yorkshire's hierarchy will also visit Trent Bridge shortly to see how Nottinghamshire connect with communities.

If English cricket is still debating where Test cricket should be played, the results of a major survey suggests that the effort is worthwhile.

English cricket has received a vote of confidence in its policy of promoting Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game with the results of a fan survey which suggests that a majority of young supporters still share their view.

More than 90,000 members of Twelfth Man, the ECB-approved fan community, were invited to state their preferred form of the game. Strikingly, although barely 3% bothered to respond, 61% of the under-25 age group favoured Test cricket with only 25% opting for Twenty20, so challenging assumptions that the shortest form of the game was connecting most successfully with young fans.

The survey contrasts markedly with attitudes elsewhere in the world, notably India, where Test matches are increasingly submerged below an emphasis on one-day games, and will persuade the ECB that their commitment to Test cricket remains valid.

Certainly, the conclusion has to be that Test cricket is still the preferred option for younger fans in England - or that any younger fans who can be bothered to complete an ECB survey are bound to have the patience to prefer the longer form of the game.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cyril on May 25, 2013, 14:15 GMT

    Typical grumbling Yorkshireman! He says that he wants more cricket but then makes a long list of things wrong with his ground.

    Although the whole of Friday would have been lost, there were some obvious issues with the groundstaff. Using those enormous pins to hold the covers down is just wrong. At The Oval they use planks. The Supersopper can travel over these and mop up even when it is raining.

    Atherton said it would take an hour and forty-five minutes to mop up after it stopped raining. This is not acceptable for a Test match ground. I'm sure in the next two days that we will witness thousands of spectators sitting in the sun watching Yorkshire's groundstaff at work and vital playing time will be lost.

    Poor decisions have been made at Headingley from the ugly thing they've just built to the lack of a roof when the Western Terrace was redeveloped.

  • Steve on May 25, 2013, 10:20 GMT

    The so called ridiculous expansion of Durham (the_wallster) has created a team which has on average 7 or 8 local players in the team, it helps to maintain cricket in a formerly underdeveloped area. Too many of the old test match hosting counties (not all) just use the income to finance the acquisition of players from other counties, they do virtually nothing to promote cricket in their own catchment areas and English cricket suffers accordingly.

  • Dummy4 on May 25, 2013, 9:21 GMT

    Being from India, I find it almost amusing to read the assertions of India gravitating towards T20. What has actually happened is that IPL has pulled in a lot of people who traditionally had no interest in the game. Test cricket still has its following. The empty stands are largely due to the scheduling, with games frequently played out on weekdays or in grounds far from the city centre without proper connectivity (Mohali, Nagpur). Check out the the number of page hits on Cricinfo during test matches and you'll get the real picture.

  • Luke on May 25, 2013, 9:18 GMT

    There's no doubt that this has been a huge problem for around 10 years now. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of spreading cricket around, but there are, what, 7, maybe 8 home Test matches a year? To be spread around 11 Test Match grounds over two - three years is ridiculous.

    The ridiculous expansion by the likes of Durham, Hampshire and Glamorgan is all well-intentioned, but the ECB has effectively put the likes of Lancashire and more importantly - Yorkshire, the bastions of cricket into financial meltdown. While Yorkshire should undoubtedly have moved on with the times much earlier by redeveloping its groun, the ECB as the national frontier has a duty to protect the national interests of the game. They will end up bailing these counties out, and will be to the detriment of the sport in the long-term.

    Trent Brige, Edgbaston, Old Trafford, Headingley, The Oval and Lords. Why were they not enough?

  • Mike on May 25, 2013, 9:14 GMT

    jackthelad The others are short-term marketing ploys or misguided attempts to spread cricket where it has no actual following. They should be abandoned.

    Somerset is only looking for cat B status to host one day matches, and in particular those that are likely to attract smaller crowds. The view is it's better for cricket to have a smaller venue that would be full (better for Sky, better for the general atmosphere) rather than play these matches in half-empty test grounds.

  • Charlie on May 25, 2013, 7:37 GMT

    "Strikingly, this summer the Ashes Test series gets no further north than Trent Bridge" I'm pretty sure there're Ashes tests at Old Trafford & Chester-le-Street this summer!

  • Robert on May 25, 2013, 6:56 GMT

    Lord's, The Oval, Trent Bridge, Edgbaston, Headingley, Old Trafford. These are the genuine international cricket grounds of England, by tradition and by support on the ground; and this is how it ought to stay. The others are short-term marketing ploys or misguided attempts to spread cricket where it has no actual following. They should be abandoned.

  • VENKATACHALAM on May 25, 2013, 5:26 GMT

    When ECB is already earning so much from Sky, it can easily rotate the international matches to every part of the country(without resorting to a bidding system for hosting which heavily favours the rich counties in the south east) so that people in every region gets their share of top flight cricket. This pandering to the rich must stop immediately.

  • Rob on May 25, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    Isn't this a cover for counties to position themselves for any future possible reduction in numbers ? One wonders for the long term future of Leics, Derby, Northants and maybe one other. Of course there are far too many "international" grounds already. 6 or at a push 7 is quite enough.

  • Ben on May 25, 2013, 1:31 GMT

    The Board will review and communicate policy regarding major matches 'through 2019'. That seems all well and good, but isn't it a little premature? What will happen between now and 2018?

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