England domestic news August 30, 2009

Lancashire face crucial time in Ashes bid

Lancashire are confident of securing one of the Pakistan-Australia Test matches next year, but their ultimate aim is to bring Ashes cricket back to a redeveloped Old Trafford. The club has submitted its bid to the ECB for one of the neutral games in 2010 and has felt bullish about its chances since the series was announced with the strong Asian links in the area an advantage.

However, while hosting the Test next summer would be a significant boost the absence of an Ashes match this season is still hurting. When Lancashire learnt they wouldn't host Australia over five days it made them realise how seriously the venue needed redeveloping.

"Since Old Trafford first hosted international cricket we have only missed out on three Ashes Tests and one of them was 2009," said Jim Cumbes, the Lancashire chief executive. "There are no guarantees, the ECB can't give any but they have been very supportive. When the work is finished this will be a wonderful stadium. The bidding process for the Ashes in 2013 is probably 12 months away and when it comes around we feel we will be a strong position."

Building work is well underway in the first stage of an ambitious project to revive the ground that has fallen into disrepair in recent years. By 2012 they aim to have built new stands, a new joint media centre and players' pavilion and renovated the current pavilion. The permanent capacity will be 15,000, but temporary seating will bring it to 25,000. At the end of the 2010 season the square will also be turned to face north-south, which will avoid problems with the setting sun and provide an increased number of pitches.

Nothing, though, is certain. The bidding process has, according to Cumbes, "put many chairman's and chief executive's noses out of joint" but he believes the ECB's position on it is softening a little since Cardiff offered huge sums for their Ashes match. "I think they are realising that geography is also important", he said.

The biggest stumbling block, however, could still be planning permission. The crux of the massive redevelopment is based on a partnership with Tesco, who will build a superstore a short distance from the ground and help finance the whole project which is expected to cost around £70million.

The next stage of the project is due to go before the planning committee in September and while the club is publicly confident it will pass, the plan could still be 'called in' by the government which would cause a severe delay and threaten the entire project. "That would be tough," admitted Michael Cairns, the Lancashire chairman. "Something would happen but not to this scale. It doesn't bear thinking about if there was an extensive delay on this process."

They have won one of the packages recently announced by the ECB and have Test matches against India in 2014 and Pakistan in 2015. Still, they are subject to the ground plans going ahead so a huge amount rests on the next month for the future of Old Trafford.

It has taken a long time for the club to even get to this stage and Cumbes revealed there had even been consideration of a drastic move. "We did seriously look at whether to become a county ground, but with the size of the North West you just can't do that," he said. "You'd be letting people down. It is unthinkable not to have Test cricket in this region which is why we want to bring it back to Old Trafford."

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo