ECB braced for U-turn over Windies Test
The England & Wales Cricket Board could be forced to put next summer's disputed West Indies Test back out to tender, after they appeared to undermine their own bid process by accepting an offer from Glamorgan that was up to 40% less than the £1million put forward by the MCC.
In a situation described by one board spokesman as "very delicate", the ECB's apparent desire to bolster the appeal of Test cricket in Wales has hit a number of stumbling blocks, with last month's Test against Sri Lanka resulting in a reported loss of up to £1.5million.
Glamorgan bid a hefty £2.5 million for the Sri Lanka Test, but a combination of poor weather and spectator apathy left their chairman, Paul Russell, talking of a "conceptual difficulty" in marketing the game outside of England.
A meagre 922 spectators witnessed England's remarkable victory on the final afternoon of the match, and the size of the loss has raised concerns that the county would not be able to bear the costs of hosting another five-day Test in 2012.
The simple solution would be for Glamorgan and MCC to instigate a straight swap, with Lord's taking over the West Indies rights for 2012, and Cardiff picking up the visit of New Zealand in the Ashes summer of 2013. However, with MCC themselves nursing a loss of £2.5 million for 2010-11, their own preference would be for the process to be put back out to tender. Given the current economic climate, they could expect to gain the rights for a knock-down price.
According to Hampshire's chairman, Rod Bransgrove, whose own county hosts their first Test match at the Rose Bowl on Thursday, the problem of marketing five-day cricket might not be limited to Glamorgan. He suspected that, in the long term, the ECB's current preference for seven Tests a summer might have to be reconsidered.
"I do think that seven Test matches every summer is a big ask," Bransgrove told ESPNcricinfo. "Audiences are beginning to show us that's a difficult quantity to sustain. But I do think that there is ample international cricket to go round the nine grounds that we now have, even if it means that everybody won't have everything they want every year."
The one surefire crowd-puller remains the Ashes, with Durham already selling tickets for their 2013 contest to ease their cash-flow problems, even though the dates of the series have yet to be announced. However, the arrival of India in the second half of this summer promises to be a windfall for the cash-strapped counties, with ticket sales already topping 700,000.