Sophia Gardens opens for business May 11, 2008

Cardiff's Ashes credentials called into question

Cricinfo staff

Sophia Gardens opened for business after the redevelopment ... Glamorgan took on Gloucestershire last Friday © Getty Images
Former England captain Mike Atherton has called into doubt the ECB's decision to award an Ashes Test next year to the redeveloped Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

The rebuilt ground - which Glamorgan now refer to as the Swalec Stadium after selling the naming rights - only has a capacity of 16,000, smaller than any of the traditional venues which were all sold out in 2005. The ECB's decision was based on commercial factors, with Cardiff guaranteeing a greater income, even if not more spectators, than grounds like Old Trafford.

"The Swalec Stadium has a capacity of 16,000, but look at Australia and you've got capacities of 50,000, 60,000, even 100,000," Atherton said. "To my mind the first Ashes Test should be, and could be, a game that you could sell out many times over the 16,000 capacity here, so I question the ECB's policy of increasing the number of international grounds."

The ECB's decision to add new venues to the existing number of international grounds has caused concern, with fears that the reduction in guaranteed matches as the load is spread thinner might place the futures of some of them in doubt.

"You have to ask whether a better policy would be to reduce the number of Test match grounds, but increase the capacity and availability for people to buy tickets to watch Ashes cricket," Atherton said. "By doing that you'd be able to reduce the price of tickets and make it more affordable for families."

While he described the new-look ground, which staged its first match on Friday night, as "functional", he added that it looked "terrific compared with the old Sophia Gardens."