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For the second time in four years Edgbaston lost a total day to rain from a Test but insurance will largely cover the costs and the club has come a long way
George Dobell at Edgbaston
June 7, 2012
This was not what Warwickshire envisaged when they spent £32 million on the redevelopment of Edgbaston. Allocated only one Test over the next three years, it was imperative that they maximised the earning opportunities from this game. A complete washout - their second in four years - on the first day has done them few favours.
Warwickshire will not actually lose any money on ticket sales. Thanks to the ECB insurance scheme, ticket holders will receive a full refund - minus a £1 handling fee - and the club may even benefit from selling more tickets on the fourth day in particular. While sales at bars around the ground were reduced, this was not the financial disaster it might have been. Apart from the fellow in the ice cream van, anyway.
It is worth reflecting for a moment on how far Warwickshire have come in recent years. By the end of 2007, they had a crumbling stadium and a team in the lower divisions of both competitions. Edgbaston's future as an international venue - and, as a consequence Warwickshire's future as a club - was in jeopardy.
If that sounds over the top it is worth remembering that membership fees account for about 6% of the club's income and, the last year in which the club did not host a Test - 2007 - saw them register what, at the time, was the largest loss - £892,000 - in their history. Without regular international cricket, Edgbaston, like many Test venues, is unsustainable.
Edgbaston is now a fine stadium. Redeveloped to an excellent standard, the capacity of 25,000 is second only to Lord's among UK cricket venues, while Andrew Strauss rated the players' facilities "as good as anywhere in the world." The media facilities are second to none.
Just as importantly, the club has a decent record of attracting a crowd that is less welcome elsewhere. While Trent Bridge and Lord's both declined to allow the Barmy Army's trumpeter to play at their Tests, Edgbaston have welcomed him and made the third day of this game a 'Barmy Army reunion day.' While Lord's may be the home of the cricket, Edgbaston could claim, with some justification, to be its playground. It is no coincidence that they are becoming - 2012 excepted - the regular venue for Twenty20 finals day.
Yet despite its fine facilities and large capacity Edgbaston still missed out when the major matches were allocated for 2013 and 2014. The ground will not host a Test against India or an Ashes encounter in those years. While the promise of five Champions Trophy games - including the final - is some compensation for 2013, 2014 "remains a challenge" in the words of Warwickshire's chief executive, Colin Povey.
Warwickshire's struggles are mirrored around the UK. Ever since Durham, then Hampshire and then Glamorgan started vying to host Test cricket, a once cosy market place has become cut throat and competitive. Where once six venues were, by and large, kept satisfied with a Test just about every year, suddenly there were nine Test venues (plus Bristol for ODIs, a ground that has just had planning permission for its expansion approved) engaged in an increasingly desperate fight for survival.
There were some obvious benefits from that arms race. For a start, the ECB's income increased considerably as grounds bid ever higher sums in an attempt to secure games. The competition also saw facilities also improved markedly for spectators, players and the media.
But the bidding wars were not sustainable. Once Glamorgan, backed by money from the Welsh Assembly, successfully bid more than double Lancashire's £1.5m to host an Ashes Test in 2009, it became apparent that something had to give. The huge levels of debt incurred by clubs looking to both redevelop and bid for games had driven several to the brink. It may still be that one or two do not make it.
Certainly Yorkshire, whose costly redevelopment actually appears to have made the ground worse, and Hampshire would have folded already were it not for the extraordinary benevolence of their respective chairmen, while Glamorgan - like Hampshire, struggling to pay their staging fees to the ECB - have been obliged to hand back previously allocated international fixtures. The first Test against West Indies, eventually held at Lord's, was scheduled to be held in Cardiff, while the New Zealand ODI they were allocated next year has become a t20 to be hosted at the Oval.
The prospect of a club going into administration, a scenario that for at least one county was hours from reality only a year ago, has forced the ECB into a rethink. Clubs no longer have to bid for international games: they are allocated through a system that takes into account issues such as the relevance of the match to the local community and its legacy value. For that reason, Trent Bridge, an excellent venue with wonderful links to the wider community, beat Edgbaston to the most attractive package of games over the next few years. It was, at face value, a hammer blow to Edgbaston's hopes of repaying their substantial debts.
But the future is not as grim as is sometimes portrayed. For a start, Warwickshire now has a thriving non-match day business, hosting weddings, parties and seminars that is expected to make £2m profit this year; above their business plan forecasts. They also host seven days of major matches this season - this Test plus an ODI and a T20I - that will keep their heads above the water. Their ticket sales for this game - though not wonderful - are higher than Trent Bridge's and would have forced every venue outside London to turn spectators away. They may not be taking the route to safety they originally planned, but they are getting there.
A key factor in Warwickshire's revival - and it should be noted that they are doing well on the pitch, too - is Povey. Povey is not to everyone's taste. He is not steeped in cricket, he does not suffer fools - a requirement of the role for many years - and he can be a touch abrasive. Crucially, he is utterly, unashamedly meritocratic; a characteristic that offends the well-meaning but ineffective fellows that used to abound in cricket administration.
But, in years to come, Warwickshire will be as grateful for his contribution as they are for the former secretaries Leslie Deakins and R.V Ryder. Povey has played a weak hand quite masterfully and transformed a decaying club to one that could have a golden future. Bearing in mind the mess he inherited and the recession that has been on-going, it is a remarkable effort.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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