Lord's looks sharp
Even in the middle of winter there is a buzz about Lord's. The decorators are in, the builders are installing new state-of-the-art replay screens, and Mick Hunt is well advanced in preparing his world-class pitches. Overseeing the whole operation from his office in the pavilion overlooking the perfectly manicured outfield is Keith Bradshaw, the Australian who moved into NW8 as chief executive of the MCC a little over a year ago.
"It's been a challenging year," Bradshaw told Cricinfo, "but it's been a very good year, if you look at the cricket side of things. I'd say we've had a very successful year despite the weather.
"Being an Australian I thought I might be in for an interesting reception, but the members and cricketing fraternity have been overwhelmingly welcoming and they have bent over backwards. I feel very much at home."
One of Bradshaw's key roles is ensuring that the MCC keeps pace with the changing face of the game. He believes they can be at the forefront of cricket despite an image of sometimes being stuck in a previous generation. The most notable recent example has been the proposal of using pink balls, and the MCC's offer to use next summer's Test against South Africa as another trial for umpire referrals.
"There was a perception that MCC is stuffy, but I think that's a load of crap," Bradshaw said. "What I've found is the members are not stuffy, they are actually very passionate; so it's a perception we need to change. The technology is changing, so the laws need to change as well. The laws as they are currently written may not suit technology in five years."
It's an interesting time to be at the head of the most famous cricket club in the world and in control of the game's most famous ground. Cricket is trying to maintain its hold on a changing sporting world where there is more competition than ever for the public's attention. Recent overseas Tests in Australia and South Africa have pulled paltry crowds as people stay away from the five-day game, while the explosion of Twenty20 is calling for a change of priorities.
Come next summer Lord's will host two Tests against New Zealand and South Africa plus a raft of other high-profile matches. Tickets will sell well - they always do - and often the ground could be sold many times over for an international. But even the most recognised ground in the world can't rest on its laurels. There is talk that Lord's could lose one of its two Tests as the ECB tries to share matches out around the country, and Bradshaw is overseeing an extensive and challenging redevelopment plan.
The MCC wants to increase capacity from the current 27,000 to something between 35- and 38,000. But it's a delicate balancing act. "We recognise that we need to increase the capacity of the ground but not turn it into a stadium, and that's going to require some significant redevelopment," said Bradshaw.
"We are looking at various things to enhance the experience at Lord's. Do we serve people more in their seats akin to American football and baseball? We are trying to learn from other sports and industries. Ticketless entry is another option - how we move people around. The redevelopment is not just about bricks and mortar."
But none of this will come cheap. Bradshaw estimated all the redevelopment could cost up to £100million. To try and raise some of the funds the MCC have put a range of debenture seats on offer, costing from £8000 to £12,000. "We need to be financially prudent and the debentures are an ideal way of doing that," he said.
High on the list of priorities are permanent floodlights. The MCC took the significant step of staging a day/night game during last season's Pro40 when Middlesex played Derbyshire. But constantly bringing in portable lights doesn't make economic sense. and the standard of lighting for internationals in England has often not been up to scratch. "The way the game is moving in terms of the experience for the public, floodlit cricket is a very important part of that and we need to move with the times," said Bradshaw. "We brought in mobile floodlights last season and learned a lot from that."
It isn't just a case of forking out the money and building half a dozen pylons around Lord's. The local residents would have something to say about that. "We need to address the concerns of the residents, and we are taking steps to minimise light pollution," explained Bradshaw. There is also the challenge of maintaining the ground's unique character.
"We are aware we don't want fixed towers around the ground, because that would take away from its nature. We have looked at retractable floodlights and I sent a team across to Copenhagen to look at one of the football stadiums where the lights go up and down like a telescope. We are also very interested to see if we can run lights in a similar way to a football stadium, around the perimeter of the roofs. That would be the ideal scenario, because it doesn't create a major impact, but we can't run lights around the entire ground at the moment. Maybe in five or ten years' time we will be able to.
"First and foremost we have to recognise that we are a cricket club and cricket comes first. From a financial perspective, if we were to say our sole cause was to maximise revenue, then we would certainly be doing different things to what we are planning. So we are very conscious of our role in the world of cricket, and maintaining Lord's as the spiritual home."
Debenture seats are now available for purchase, guaranteeing a seat at Lord's for all major matches from 2008-2015. For more information click here
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo