England's Test venues November 30, 2006

Enjoy cricket-style entertainment at The Rose Bowl

More and more venues around England aspire to acquire Test status



The 'sports and entertainment resort' at The Rose Bowl in Hampshire © Getty Images

Cricket's bulging lexicon welcomed a new phrase this week. For those deluded souls who believe that when they attend a match they are visiting a 'cricket ground' have been put firmly in their outmoded place.

No, the future of international cricket in England is at a 'sports and entertainment resort' according to Rod 'Loadsamoney' Bransgrove, the chairman of Hampshire whose ambitious Rose Bowl venue was awarded provisional Test status this week.

Presumably players will no longer be players but 'entertainment facilitators' while spectators or fans become 'customers' enjoying a 'cricket-style experience'. Maybe that's what England's performance at Brisbane was: a cricket-style experience, something which resembled cricket but lacked the essential, fresh ingredients.

The England and Wales Cricket Board's (ECB) announcement about the Rose Bowl's enhanced status comes less than six months after Bransgrove launched a scathing attack on the board when Cardiff was awarded an Ashes Test for 2009.

In the June issue of The Wisden Cricketer, Bransgrove accused the ECB of double standards, of a conflict of interests, of being biased against private investors like him, of bad business practice and claimed that Hampshire's position was becoming unsustainable unless they hosted Test cricket.

I guess that when you have Bransgrove's cash, you can rebuild bridges as fast as you burn them.

The ECB would have to be remarkably pig-headed to bear a grudge against Bransgrove. Regardless of his Rose Bowl 'resort' he brought Shane Warne to county cricket and for that he deserves our gratitude. As the county game struggles for credibility and profile with anonymous overseas players and Kolpaks by the kilo, Warne has made a mark as indelible as any left by [Malcolm] Marshall, [Gordon] Greenidge, [Vivian and Barry] Richards or [Richard] Hadlee.

The Rose Bowl's credibility as a Test venue (sorry, resort) is undermined only by an iffy pitch and an accessibility problem that has made it marginally harder to get out of than Alcatraz. But these issues are being addressed. By all accounts, it was much easier to get away from the ground for the one-dayer in September against Pakistan than had been the case for the Twenty20 against Sri Lanka earlier in the summer.



Rod Bransgrove may refer to The Rose Bowl as a resort and but he did manage to get Shane Warne to play for Hampshire and raise the profile of county cricket © Getty Images

The problem is not with the Rose Bowl. The problem is the amount of venues in England and Wales aspiring to host internationals. Edgbaston, where England have won four and drawn one of their last five Tests, will not host a Test in 2007. Gone are many of the long-term staging agreements between the traditional international venues and ECB that guaranteed these famous grounds years of major matches.

These agreements enraged the likes of Bransgrove trying to break into what he perceived as a cosy cartel between the administrators and the grounds. And to an extent he's right. Some traditional venues were becoming complacent and the decaying facilities showed it. And it can only benefit cricket in England and Wales that people in Durham or Cardiff can see international cricket on their doorstep.

But given the cost of staging international cricket and the cost of maintaining or building international-class facilities (the latest Rose Bowl improvements are costing £35m and that's on top of the king's ransom it cost to build in the first place), I cannot see how all these counties can sustain such ambitious targets. England's home international schedule expanded in 2000 to seven Tests and 10 one-day internationals. It has surely, hopefully, reached saturation point. Yet more venues come on stream. I'm no accountant but the maths doesn't seem to add up.

Glamorgan, who shocked English cricket by earning the right to host an Ashes Test in 2009, announced recently that money was so tight they would not be able to afford an overseas player in 2007 or 2008.

I might mock Bransgrove's description of the Rose Bowl as a 'resort' but the reality is that cricket alone cannot sustain these counties as viable businesses. In Australia the forgiving climate allows for Australian rules football to be played at the Melbourne and Sydney cricket grounds without ruining the playing surface. English cricket venues look to Elton John to reach the parts of their bank accounts that cricket cannot nourish.

Seemingly immune from this outbreak of democracy is, surprise, surprise, Lord's, which hosts two Tests each summer, one against each touring side. In The Wisden Cricketer's recent readers' poll, 59% said it was time Lord's gave up one of those Tests. Now there's a thought.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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