Marylebone Cricket Club May 4, 2016

Test cricket is 'London-centric', says MCC president

ESPNcricinfo staff
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An MCC member in front of the pavilion at Lord's © Getty Images

Roger Knight, the president of MCC, has told club members during the AGM at Lord's that Test cricket has "become London-centric" and "the time has come to pay attention to that fact".

Knight's comments come amid fears that Lord's could be forced to relinquish its privileged status of hosting two Tests a year, due to the likelihood that fewer Tests will be staged when the ECB re-negotiates its TV rights packages from 2019.

Drawing upon recent statistics, Knight told his audience of 600 members during the president's address that attendances at Tests held outside London in May during the past three seasons had attracted fewer than 110,000 spectators - 32% of the figure for Lord's.

Several non-London venues have struggled in recent years to sell tickets for Test cricket. In 2012, Cardiff relinquished the right to host West Indies in the first Test of that summer, with Lord's taking the contest instead. The crowd for that match, Knight added, ended up being higher than the other two grounds for the three-Test series, Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, added together.

Durham, who host the second match of the forthcoming Sri Lanka tour, are not expected to bid for any more Tests in the near future following their failure to sell out the fourth day of their Ashes-sealing Test in 2013. In recent seasons even Headingley, where the Test summer will begin on May 19, has struggled to live up to Yorkshire's traditional support for the format.

Between them, Lord's (129) and The Oval (98) have hosted just under half of the 494 Tests to have been played in England since 1880. Ever since the introduction of a seven-Test summer programme in 2000, London has hosted three matches per season, with Lord's claiming two, and The Oval one.

"When one examines the attendances at Test matches around the country, it is noticeable, in respect of the first series of the summer especially, that crowds at Lord's are far greater than at other grounds," said Knight, who added that 342,000 members and spectators had attended Lord's May Test in the past three years.

Ticket prices are another significant factor in the viability of Test venues, and here it could be argued that London, with an economic micro-climate that is far removed from the rest of the country, is more of a problem than a solution.

With a greater proportion of corporate clients than other venues, Lord's and The Oval are able to charge significantly higher prices for a day's play - Headingley's and Chester-le-Street's general admission tickets for the Sri Lanka series are priced at £55 and £35 respectively. Certainly, the London venues would argue there is little reason to follow Cricket Australia's recent policy of capping their prices for Tests and ODIs at A$30 per day.

But Lord's, who are midway through a £21 million rebuilding of the Warner Stand, remain fearful that the change of emphasis at the ECB - with white-ball cricket and, especially, T20, becoming an ever more significant part of the board's long-term strategy - will leave their ground with fewer big games to justify their expensive outlay.

"The Committee is doing its utmost to ensure that MCC is placed in the best possible position to continue to host two Test matches in every year when there are two touring teams," said Knight. "We have enjoyed such a programme in most years since 1965; but it is by no means certain that from 2020 onwards there will be sufficient Test matches to enable MCC to be awarded two per summer.

"This is nothing to do with the club's capacity to stage these matches, nor is it a result of our relationship with ECB, which I can tell you is healthy. It is simply because there may not be sufficient Test matches to distribute amongst the grounds that would expect to stage them. I feel that the position is improving slightly, but there should be no complacency."

Elsewhere in his address, Knight highlighted the MCC World Cricket committee's role in the pioneering of day/night first-class cricket, with the recent Test between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide following on from the successful implementation of a pink ball for the MCC v Champion County fixture in the UAE.

"The floodlit Test match between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide in November was a huge success," said Knight. "Large crowds, a fantastic atmosphere, an entertaining match, a unique event.

"It was an inspired choice to play it at the Adelaide Oval - and the MCC World Cricket committee in particular is to be congratulated for providing the inspiration, for the idea originated from them."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on May 7, 2016, 10:12 GMT

    Cardiff is a fantastic venue for test cricket. I was lucky enough to go there for the third day of the Ashes in 2015, and the atmosphere was amazing.

  • Dean on May 6, 2016, 9:47 GMT

    @Leicesternick, They won't have any problem filling grounds for the franchised T20 league in the early stages. The big question will be if they will be able to sustain intrest in the medium to long term.

  • Mike on May 6, 2016, 8:50 GMT

    Here here. Long overdue that this issues has been dragged out of the dark corners.

    Never mind that the money gets shared around the counties, thats not the point. The point is that fans around the country want to see tests near where they live.

    I'd also make the point that there needs to be a fair distribution wherever possible between north and south venues too.

  • Steve on May 5, 2016, 20:52 GMT

    JACKIETHEPEN you absolutely nailed it. The ground was packed and the atmosphere was electric on day 4 in 2013. Durham do struggle to sell out the one-sided games, but get reasonable crowds for the stronger teams (which is also true to a lesser extent to Old Trafford, Headingley and Trent Bridge). So what if games in the provinces attract smaller gates than in London, it means that those fans who live in the less populated or wealthy regions can get to see a game. If the game is only about money then of course the London grounds are out on their own, but it isn't, it's also about keeping an entire country interested in the sport (at a time when interest is dying world wide). Hopefully Durham will look to stage tests in the future, even if it's only once every three or four years.

    It's interesting that the proportion of England cricketers produced by Middlesex and Surrey in no way matches up to their riches. Best to keep as many regions connected to test cricket as possible.

  • Jon on May 5, 2016, 20:32 GMT

    The three best grounds in England are Edbaston, Old Trafford and Trent Bridge. Headingley failed to market their last two test matches well and the grounds are London far too expensive and very difficult to get to. There is virtually no atmosphere and touring sides love playing in London. Edgbaston is by far and away the pinnacle of English cricket watching.

  • Nick on May 5, 2016, 20:28 GMT

    If they can't sell out Tests outside of London, how is this City based franchise plan going to fill the grounds of the big cities when they've alienated the support of other nearby counties?

    I know plenty who travel from Leics to a test at Trent Bridge. Take them away for starters.

    Take away anyone from Merseyside, Cheshire etc etc.

    If it wasn't serious you could make a sitcom out of it.

  • Richard on May 5, 2016, 17:41 GMT

    So many problems with test cricket could be solved by lowering ticket prices. It would mean kids got to watch exciting test matches, the atmosphere and crowds would improve and cricket would become more popular generally.

  • Peter on May 5, 2016, 16:36 GMT

    I've been saying this for a long time, why London gets 2 tests in the Ashes I just don't know. London provides zero players to the team and the whole North of England got nothing in the way of Ashes tests while London got 2 tests. It needs to change.

  • Rob on May 5, 2016, 16:10 GMT

    WAYNE_LARKINS_BARNETT ON MAY 5, 2016, 13:34 GMT Agree completely, I lived in Cardiff for 5 years it is far more suited to ODI's and T20's. Always have Old Trafford, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge as apart from a great atmosphere, we win there.

  • Dean on May 5, 2016, 15:45 GMT

    In order to make way for the new franchised T20, I suspect what will happen when the new tv deal is negotiated is that home tests are reduced from 7 to 6 except in Ashes years when there will still be 7 & a small overlap with the T20 will be required. With Durham likely to pull the plug on Test cricket Cardiff should be pursded to do them same & if needs be offer them a T20 franchise. You then have a situation where on a 4 year cycle there will be 25 home test matches. So why then not a compromise, London hosts 10 Tests which means Lords gets a 2nd Test every other year and let the other 5 venues (Leeds,Manchester,Soton,Notts, Birmingham) host 3 tests each in the 4 year cycle?

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