England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 1st day July 8, 2009

A naked betrayal of tradition

Sophia Gardens has its charms but its hosting of the first Test is a naked commercialisation of cricket's most precious crown jewel

A sign on the pleasant riverside path that leads from Cardiff Castle to Sophia Gardens, the soon-to-be-100th Test venue in the world, comes closer than any number of PR pitches and publicity drives to providing some sort of historical anchor to what, even on the eve of the 2009 Ashes, still comes across as one of the most naked betrayals of tradition the great game of cricket has ever known.

"Old South Wales welcomes New South Wales" is the sign in question - you see what they've done there? Sadly, the deal struck by Bwrdd Criced Cymru a Lloegr* back in 2006 had less to do with the presumed antecedents of Simon Katich, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, and everything to do with the £3.2 million full-bunger that Glamorgan, with some hefty assistance from the Welsh Assembly, served up to the board's easily-tempted Major Match Group.

It is hardly the venue's fault that Cardiff's Test debut has come about in such grubby circumstances - by all accounts the ground is looking as good as it possibly could, after a £14.5 million facelift incorporating brand-new "meccano-style" stands, and a relaid outfield that ought to be able to redistribute any unwelcome downpour straight back into the neighbouring River Taff.

In fact, in any ordinary circumstances, the journey that most of the visiting public will take, through the city centre, past the fortresses modern and ancient - the Millennium Stadium on one side, Cardiff Castle on the other - and through the leafy tranquillity of Sophia Gardens, deserves to be rated alongside Adelaide and Melbourne among the best Test-match approaches in the world.

And had Cardiff been awarded a teeth-cutting Test against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, and had it earned its Ashes opportunity over the fullness of time, instead of through the undignified hustle of hard currency, perhaps the charms of the venue would have been far better received. But this is the Ashes, the most storied and glorious of cricket's myriad encounters, and there is simply no justification for such a naked commercialisation of cricket's most precious crown jewel.

Right now, Test cricket needs to hark back to its traditions more urgently than at any previous time in the game's history. Like the recently concluded Lions rugby tour of South Africa, the notion of five-day cricket is an anachronism that fewer and fewer of the world's sports-lovers can comprehend, and as such, every series that fails to capture the imagination feels like a betrayal of the very soul of the sport. Last week, the Lions won in glorious fashion in Johannesburg to prove the enduring worth of their eclectic brand of entertainment, but the price of the 3-0 whitewash they avoided could scarcely have been put into words.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka and Pakistan - finalists in the gloriously received World Twenty20 last month - concluded an enthralling first Test in Galle. Sri Lanka emerged victorious by 50 runs, having defended a fourth-innings target of 168, but there cannot have been more than 2000 fans to witness the full four-day contest. The format is dying a death in a world that has no time for subtleties, and as such, the notion of surplanting the Ashes - of all landmark series - is all the more unforgivable.

Apart from anything else, there is the sheer ugliness of the bid that Glamorgan laid out before the E(W)CB - the county's offer "murdered" that of their rivals, in the unbridled opinion of their chairman, Paul Russell. It is ignorant to suggest, however (as has been aired in several branches of the media this week) that the opening Ashes Test has traditionally been staged at Lord's - that tradition in fact dates back to 2005, which is Ground Zero as far as the hype of this year's contest is concerned. Which, alas, is part of the problem. Any attempt to manufacture a repeat of that magnificent summer is surely doomed to anticlimax.

Test cricket shares many of its finest traits with the equally maligned pursuit of ornithology - for every priceless sighting of a lesser spotted grebe, or a finish to rival the Edgbaston Test of 2005, there can be an awful lot of waiting around, and that is a fact that enhances the experience for the aficionados, but leaves everyone else with a stake in the game - in particularly the money-men - distinctly twitchy.

It could be that Cardiff is about to stage a four-and-a-half day contest of thrilling intensity and magnificent cut-and-thrust, in which case, there will be a prolonged sigh of relief from the Valleys, and a pleasing kerching from the tills. But whatever the result, it does not disguise the iniquity of the decision in the first place. The Ashes is special because it has endured for 130 years, oblivious to fads, fashions and the whims of a changing market. At this uncertain time for the game, with Twenty20 cricket tearing through tradition, it's crazy to allow the game's anchor to drag in this way.

* England and Wales Cricket Board

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Red on July 9, 2009, 10:43 GMT

    And here I was thinking Wales was in the same country !

  • Howard on July 9, 2009, 8:32 GMT

    I have no problem with Cardiff hosting any test match, ashes or not, but why does no-one ever ask the question why London is guaranteed at least 2 test matches every summer, and indeed if we have 2 touring teams in a summer they will undoubtedly get 3 tests. If Lords has to host each touring team for "tradition" then the Oval surely has to wait in line with all the rest and not seemingly have it handed on a plate each summer, there are cricket fans all over Britain although the E(W)CB only seems to think those in the south are the real fans.

  • Nicholas on July 8, 2009, 22:07 GMT

    "gloriously received World Twenty 20"? Not by me! I will never forget seeing New Zealand and Scotland playing a 7 over per side match. It wasn't cricket, it wasn't even sport! Twenty 20 is a joke.

  • Graham on July 8, 2009, 19:38 GMT

    I assume Miller is paid to be some kind of "shock jock" stirring things up? Can't think of any other reason for such unmitigated drivel. I shall be going over the bridge on Friday and can't wait. Well done Wales, you've waited a long time for this!

  • Welsh on July 8, 2009, 19:37 GMT

    Excuse me, it is the England & WALES cricket board, is it not? How long would we have had to wait for you English to condescend to give Wales an Ashes test? 50 years? 100 years?

    Well, Wales showed initiative in backing itself to host a game at the pinnacle of cricket - The Ashes. It also put it's money where it's mouth is. A bigger question is why London gets TWO ashes tests, how much longer can that be justified?

    Lest you people over the border forget, we provided you, via Glamorgan, with your most recent Ashes winning coach!

    Fantastic day for English & WELSH cricket. Wales is now firmly on the cricket map. Deal with it!

  • Michael on July 8, 2009, 18:11 GMT

    I suspect the question has been there in a few people's minds about Cardiff, particularly with Manchester being off limits. Money always talks,even with the knowledge of Stanford's millions(worse than the apple in Eden, that one ) Edgbaston would have been a good place to start the series,or even Durham. But that said once the track was revealed as not being moribund and actually providing a very good day's entertainment then playing at this venue became acceptable, and it's probably nice for people who live in the West who can actually AFFORD a ticket to pitch up to this wellput together venue beside the Taff for a Test. As for tradition in cricket I do not think that Tests are remotely a thing of the past unless complete idiots and greedy bankers run the game, as can be seen by postings on Cricinfo.Rather they are very much the future,whatever segments of the 'soccer' crowd say, because a 20 over game really is not even Mickey Mouse. Anyway that was a good day for Cardiff to begin.

  • Sriram on July 8, 2009, 17:46 GMT

    Losing the telecast rights to Sky - now, that I consider a betrayal. But not this one Andrew. While I will miss Old trafford on the list, Wales desrves something for being bundled up with England (and not even afforded a "W" in the board's acronym). But I do get your point about the box of cash that clinched the deal - kind of like the box that cost the Beeb the game rights.

  • andy on July 8, 2009, 16:32 GMT

    So what the first test is not at an established test ground. I do not see what all the fuss is about, surely this can only be good for the future of the game to move it around so more people get the chance to see some "proper" cricket and not just the "wham bam thankyou mam" stuff!

  • Gautam on July 8, 2009, 16:21 GMT

    What next? A return to the halcyon days of the old Empire? Get the colonies back and reinstate the Imperial Cricket Council? After all, as in the 1880s, who needs any other Cricket than between the Old Country and the Old Enemy? The 'Crown Jewel' indeed.

    Leave Cricket in the hands of these traditionalists and the only thing left of an Ashes Test will be the dyspeptic old fogies, drooling and drooping drowsily in their cheap seats at the Members' End. Leave it to these 'traditionalists' and we will have 'gentlemen ought not make any profit from playing Cricket' (see MCC). Leave it to these traditionalists and we will only see a game that is volubly and vehemently opposed to professionals, player's unions, women, Asians, Associates and everyone else.

    It has taken 130 years and a desperate and naked commercial enterprise to bring an Ashes Test to Wales. Leave it to the traditionalists, and it would have remained the England and Wales Cricket Board only in name. Bring on Sophia Garden!

  • Ned on July 8, 2009, 16:14 GMT

    I'd agree that the Test should have gone to an established ground, and especially that the money and greed shouldn't be the deciding factor. But I think it's far worse that the first Ashes Test is starting on a Wednesday - so the two days most likely to see no play are the two days over the weekend. And once again all down to money. The ECB were confident enough that a small ground would sell out anyway, and of course if it does get interesting on the 5th day, they're more likely to sell more tickets. But otherwise it's a blatant disregard for the millions following by TV or radio who don't get the main bits of the Test over their weekend anymore.

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