Lancashire chief warns of financial trouble
Jim Cumbes, the Lancashire chief executive, has warned that a Test-match county could go bust in the near future unless changes are made to the bidding process for international matches, and believes a franchise-based system involving the nine major venues should be the way forward to support the English game.
His comments came as Lancashire announced a record loss of £546,000 after Old Trafford didn't host a Test in 2009 and began their extensive redevelopment plans to try and ensure they earn an Ashes contest in 2013. The current ECB process is that grounds that aren't given long-term staging agreements have to bid against each other to host Tests, one-dayers and Twenty20s.
"Without doubt," Cumbes said when asked about a county going under, "and it won't be a small one; it will be a big one. It's always possible, always possible. Yorkshire have a lot of debt at Headingley; Durham are in a lot of debt; we're in debt.
"Some grounds more than others cannot afford what is being asked. Trent Bridge's staging agreement finishes next year - they're frightened to death, because they have no other source of income but cricket yet have a ground they've got to maintain. Everybody's in the same boat.
"If the ECB don't relax on this bidding process and start to get more realistic about the numbers, all we've said is we need to look at something else to fill the grounds."
The problems stem from the increasing number of grounds now wanting to host international matches following the development of Chester-le-Street, Cardiff, The Rose Bowl and Bristol. There are strict standards grounds have to meet in order to stage top-level games, but in return they can't be guaranteed the volume of matches they need to break even.
"You've got nine Test match grounds, and seven Test matches - two of which go to Lord's - so you've got five for eight," said Cumbes. "If the board then wants you to spend a million quid a year maintaining the ground, you can't square the circle.
"Whatever we come up with, it has to work for the whole of the game. But at the moment, you've got nine grounds supporting the rest - so I suppose you could ask 'why aren't nine franchises supporting them as well?'
"I think it's probably got to happen. The IPL is the fourth-most successful sporting competition in the world; it works in South Africa and Australia. We've got to make it attractive enough to fill our grounds."
The first major part of Old Trafford's new look, an imposing red structure called The Point, is almost complete and will be open at the end of the month. The next stage of the plans, which include new player and media facilities plus more new stands, has been passed by Trafford Council and is now awaiting final clearance by Government North West before work can begin.
The club are confident the plans won't encounter any problems along the way although the recent General Election and a change of personnel in key positions has meant some delays.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo