England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 1st day

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

Andrew Miller at Sophia Gardens

July 8, 2009

Comments: 34 | Text size: A | A

A sign welcoming the Ashes to Cardiff, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, July 6, 2009
Sophia Gardens has its charms but its hosting of the first Test is a naked commercialisation of cricket's most precious crown jewel © Getty Images
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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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by RedRascal on (July 9, 2009, 10:43 GMT)

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

Posted by consth1 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.

Posted by styrisfan 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.

Posted by GPS1 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!

Posted by thewelshboycott 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!

Posted by 2.14istherunrate 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.

Posted by Sriram.Dayanand 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.

Posted by Andyboyo 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!

Posted by radioFREEmadras 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!

Posted by 0NBH 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.

Posted by wilecoyote on (July 8, 2009, 16:03 GMT)

What is this article about? Really I don't get it. The second paragraph seems to be in some strange language and I don't mean the Welsh.

Posted by Clickinfo on (July 8, 2009, 14:58 GMT)

I agree with Andrew Miller. Most things in cricket are sold to the highest bidder - just ask the ICC or Lalit $$$ Modi - but the ECB has given a Test, in what is to England and Australia a massive contest, to a ground with no history but more importantly, major problems in hosting bigger matches (see last year's ODI farce) and a tiny capacity. It's not about being stuck in the mud, it's about the ECB sticking two fingers up at genuine fans so it can rake in extra cash. With no tickets available, prices go through the roof and the real fans, increasingly marginalised, lose out. And ask the ECB how many seats it's given to its corporate mates ... it will run into thousands.

Posted by JackKelleher on (July 8, 2009, 14:16 GMT)

The placing of the first Ashes test at Sophia Gardens has nothing to do with Test cricket moving forwards! It should be obvious to everyone that the ECB have placed it there because of money, pure and simple, not for some higher cause of promoting cricket in Wales, and the fact that they are willing to forsake tradition just to get more money is surely not something to be admired.

Posted by PaulSyt on (July 8, 2009, 13:08 GMT)

Like most of the posters on here, I couldn't disagree more with Andrew Miller this time. It is precisely the narrow minded 'traditionalism' within certain sections of the cricketing fraternity which is holding back Test Cricket, faced with the challenge of T20. Tradition should never obstruct the correct and just approach. I would go as far as to say that England should change their name to 'England and Wales' in respesct of the Tony Lewis/ Simon Jones etc of this world who have played Test Cricket for England. Is it not the England and Wales Cricket Board? Test Cricket must move with the times or it will become ever more sidelined - the days of yore village green/ willow on leather traditionalism needs to be consigned to history

Posted by SpottedHyena on (July 8, 2009, 12:55 GMT)

I do agree with some of it at least. The only problem is that this is the First Test of The Ashes - biggest test match on earth - the ECB thinks of money and only money. Lords is not only "the Home", but also has twice the capacity. So in effect they deny 15,000 people the chance to see the first ball bowled. Then again I suppose the less tickets you have to sell the more they can go for...I hope Australia wins 5-0 just to spite the greedy ECB. Nothing against Cardiff and I'm sure they'll do an excellent job - but they could have swopped with Lords and held the second test instead.

Posted by protea_fan on (July 8, 2009, 12:24 GMT)

"...cricket's most precious crown jewel." A good turn of phrase, since it is only really appreciated by the Aussies and the Poms, and not as much by the Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, West Indians and the South Africans (who make up probably about 90% of the cricket fan base, thanks to the subcontinent). It is thus a bit "exclusive", although number 1 ranked vs number 5 ranked isn't really that great.

Although, hang on - us Saffers have some stake here, thanks to KP. Didn't he basically win the Ashes for England in 2005, according to some? Perhaps I should look at this from the perspective of a one-man SA side against the Aussies.

My tongue's halfway in my cheek, by the way, to any sensitive types out there.

Posted by mayoorans on (July 8, 2009, 12:01 GMT)

I see no valid point being made by the author. What is wrong with playing a test match in Cardiff? After all England play their one day matches there, don't they? Glamorgan are part of the County championship aren't they? He makes a point about the dangers faced by T20, but he fails to spot that making Test Cricket more appealing involves taking it beyond its conservative boundaries. And that includes 4 day matches, day night matches and playing in different venues across the world. So well done ECB.

Posted by Pross72 on (July 8, 2009, 11:58 GMT)

Oh, and Cardiff has hosted a few ODIs in the past although they get the other two teams in a triangular tournament whilst others have been continually alloted the England matches so this goes some way to re-dressing the balance.

Posted by Pross72 on (July 8, 2009, 11:55 GMT)

What a load of tosh. Tradition as I see it is that we start an Ashes series at Lords and lose to give the Aussies a flyer so why stick with it? Cardiff provides a venue that is far more accessible than the Rose Bowl would be as anyone else who has been stuck in the car park after an ODI will surely remember! This is exactly the same nonsense we got from journos coming to the Millenium Stadium for the FA Cup final whereas the majority of supporters loved it for the fact that it is so close to the city with its pubs, restaurants etc.

Is Andrew Miller a Hampshire or Durham supporter by any chance?

Posted by Theena on (July 8, 2009, 11:22 GMT)

"And had Cardiff been awarded a teeth-cutting Test against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka"

Oh wow. Because we (Sri Lanka) are the embarrassing relatives you would rather not see running around in the hallowed turfs of Lords?

I care little for Bangladesh - they didn't deserve test status in the first place and everything they've done since has vindicated my original assessment of them - but this attitude of using Sri Lanka for the purposes of "Teeth-cutting" is ridiculous. Sri Lanka, in case memory fails you, beat or equaled England in England in 1998 and 2006, embarrassing the home teams in more than one occasion. And yet we are to be used for 'teeth-cutting'?

(Contd)

Posted by Daku_2000 on (July 8, 2009, 10:44 GMT)

I honestly cannot see the point of this article. Sofia Gardens has been in existence for a number of years, and the fact that tests have never been played in Cardiff (or Wales) should have been rectified years ago. Cricket is now being played in a new 'country', this should not be seen as a betrayal of tradition, but rather a slow but reassuring measure of progress and development.

What we should be asking ourselves is why so many tests are concentrated on the same venues in London (namely Lords or Oval), and why test cricket in the UK is so entrenched and targeted towards 'middle' England. Test prices are too high, and the recent standard of pitches at Lords and Oval (barring the match versus the uninterested WI earlier this year) have been more damaging to the future prospects of test cricket.

Posted by Paafsal on (July 8, 2009, 10:42 GMT)

Aussies are dreaming to make all the pitches by themselves. They will change the Galley pitch to that of Perth and play 100 tests in a year.

Posted by guylovelady on (July 8, 2009, 10:35 GMT)

If we were to remain slaves to tradition we would be incaves still. Get over yourself with your snobbish and backward thinking. Money is such a grubby thing? Bring back gentlemen and players?

Posted by Chase_HQ on (July 8, 2009, 10:29 GMT)

Sure - we need to have a good test here and all will be forgiven. But, in principle, why should tests be played in the same pitches year in year out? The money may have been a (last?) desperate attempt to bring test cricket to wales. These opportunities don't come around very often - good for them for pulling out the stops to make it happen. Now we wish them the best and hope that it'll be a cracking test.

Posted by Nerk on (July 8, 2009, 10:25 GMT)

i don't think miller is being pompous or arrogant. I think what he means by cutting teeth test is that for England and Australian fans the Ashes is the pinnacle of test cricket. It is not just about a test but a whole history going back more than a hundred years. I don't think an experienced cricket commentator would make the dreadful mistake of believing Sri Lanka a second rate team. If he did, on the other heand, he needs a new proof reader.

Posted by marsh_s on (July 8, 2009, 10:24 GMT)

im sorry but 'teeth-cutting Test against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka' is a bit pompous dont you think? After all Sri Lanka are 4th in the Test rankings whilst England are 5th I believe,But you still insist that Sri Lanka deserves cutting teeth tests and equate Sri Lanka to Bangladesh? Sorry Andrew I enjoy your writing a lot but i think that was uncalled for? was it you who wt\rote something in 2006 when Sri Lanka toured and England th eseries was drawn about English Arrogance. dare I say you have shown it again.

Posted by old_iron on (July 8, 2009, 10:04 GMT)

I'd like to know why MY money bankrolled the ground and then bought this match in such unashamed fashion

Posted by Cricdish on (July 8, 2009, 10:03 GMT)

This is so much bull-excreta. The ECB has a procedure around match allotment which is based on competitive bidding. Surely, if the ECB had rejected Cardiff's bid in order to preserve tradition, they'd have ended up in court.

Posted by BellCurve on (July 8, 2009, 9:57 GMT)

The most evenly balanced ashes series for decades is about to kick off and Andrew Miller writes a negative story. Is he anti-Welsh? Is he a socialist? Or is he just one of those grumpy, glass-half-empty types? Probably all three.

Posted by Rockstar123 on (July 8, 2009, 9:48 GMT)

for your information there was a big crowd at the Galle international stadium for the test match. Sri Lankans appreciate their test cricket very much. Unlike their indian counter parts who are intoxicated with the rubbish T20.

Posted by marsh_s on (July 8, 2009, 9:44 GMT)

im sorry but 'teeth-cutting Test against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka' is a bit pompous dont you think? After all Sri Lanka are 4th in the Test rankings whilst England are 5th I believe,But you still insist that Sri Lanka deserves cutting teeth tests and equate Sri Lanka to Bangladesh? Sorry Andrew I enjoy your writing a lot but i think that was uncalled for? was it you who wt\rote something in 2006 when Sri Lanka toured and England th eseries was drawn about English Arrogance. dare I say you have shown it again.

Posted by sdavmor on (July 8, 2009, 9:41 GMT)

If we have a very good test that England wins then Cardiff et al will be forgiven everything. But if not...the knives will be out! Unfortunately the harsh reality of economics underscores the truth here that money talks & bullshit walks...or at least not so many bagfuls of swag as Glamorgan laid on the table walks!

As Marillion said: "This is the 21st century Flash to crash and burn Nobody's gonna give you anything For nothing in return There's a man up in a mirrored building And he just bought the world ".

The more money backing any position, the quicker the universe gets demystified. Cardiff/Glamorgan bought the world. Now lets see something special (a nasty spinning wicket perhaps) delivered!

Posted by PaulInShire on (July 8, 2009, 9:31 GMT)

What a load of rubbish! I am an England cricket supporter and I see no problem in having an Ashes test being played in Cardiff. The England team encompasses Wales, and always has done, so why shouldn't the match be played there. A much bigger betrayal of tradition has been the selling of the TV rights so that the majority of fans in England and Wales cannot see the match, except for perhaps a few dozen balls that are shown on Channel 5 in the evening (if you can get that channel).

The fact that a local authority has put some money forward to enable the match to be played in Cardiff is irrelevant. In fact I think that it is long overdue for Test matches to be played at grounds other than the 'traditional' grounds. none of which are within 80 miles of where I live (Bristol).

The Ashes is a special competition because of the competition, not because of the grounds on which the matches are played.

Posted by SettingSun on (July 8, 2009, 9:27 GMT)

I completely agree with this article from start to finish. If the test had been awarded to, say, Chester-le-Street or maybe even The Rose Bowl, there would have been fewer complaints from me. They've both hosted a number of international fixtures and have earned their right to stage such a big match. Cardiff has done nothing except wave a big cheque under the noses of the ECB. It's as simple as that.

Certainly, Old Trafford needs massive renovation but, you know, there are more things to being able to successfully host an international sports fixture than how good the ground looks. The pitch is the best in the country, for a start. The atmosphere is almost always superb. And the ground is usually sold out. You'd have thought selling out is exactly the subject the ECB would be experts on.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
Tour Results
England v Australia at Chester-le-Street - Sep 20, 2009
England won by 4 wickets (with 60 balls remaining)
England v Australia at Nottingham - Sep 17, 2009
Australia won by 111 runs
England v Australia at Nottingham - Sep 15, 2009
Australia won by 4 wickets (with 10 balls remaining)
England v Australia at Lord's - Sep 12, 2009
Australia won by 7 wickets (with 38 balls remaining)
England v Australia at Southampton - Sep 9, 2009
Australia won by 6 wickets (with 9 balls remaining)
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