Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2007

Site-seeing - cricket grounds in 2006

Ivo Tennant



Deckchairs are out; leisure centres are in © Martin Williamson
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The first-class counties were gripped by pecuniary panic in 2006. And chief executives and committees decided the best way to counter soaring costs - particularly in players' salaries and the upkeep of old buildings - was through redeveloping their grounds. Goodbye, deckchairs and picnic tables. Hello, hotels, leisure centres and state-of-the-art stands.

The ultimate panacea, which Glamorgan and Hampshire both (provisionally) achieved in 2006, was Test status. But nine grounds will soon be able to stage Test matches. And with the two London venues set to have three of each summer's seven Tests into the distant future, that leaves the other seven fighting for their share, and makes it seem certain that the other nine counties will have to find other means of bumping up revenue.

In spite of an ECB distribution of £1.2m to each county (chief executives dislike the word "handout", reasoning that their clubs have contributed to the prosperity), the consensus was that something must be done. As David East, chief executive of Essex, put it: "Gone are the days of a grotty plastic chair and greasy burger. You only have to to look at Arsenal's new stadium."

Glamorgan's triumph in gaining an Ashes Test in 2009 led to dark mutterings elsewhere, and even among members, alarmed that too much focus on the ground will only result in a weak team getting weaker. But because Sophia Gardens is in a conservation area, they were never going to be allowed to build a hotel or offices to help fund the cricket.

And the club insist that it is only by making a leap forward of this nature that they can ever put themselves on a sound footing. They are still repaying interest on their £2.5m outlay on buying the ground in 1995: they can't start making capital repayments without a major new source of revenue - such as Test matches.

The worry for Glamorgan is that they have no guarantee of any more Tests after 2009. The worry for the traditional provincial Test grounds is that they have to keep spending to keep up with the Joneses.

Lancashire could not compete with Glamorgan's offer for 2009, not least because their plans for Old Trafford were still unresolved. Although they are now almost certain to stay put, they will have to splash out to stay in contention. Though Trent Bridge is much admired, Nottinghamshire feel the need for another new stand, scoreboard and floodlights. Durham will be adding more permanent seating, covered stands and floodlights at the Riverside. Warwickshire are planning to upgrade their pavilion, as are Yorkshire, who are talking of £12-£15m on a building that will double as a university facility.

If anyone thinks Glamorgan are overreaching themselves with a £10m development, other counties are thinking much bigger. The Rose Bowl is expected to get a further £35m investment, including a hotel with a view. And Somerset, who have no chance of Test cricket, are planning a £60m development with council support. Essex hope to build flats to improve their headquarters at Chelmsford.

Some of these plans will meet near-universal approval. The problems come at the more traditional and aesthetically pleasing venues such as Canterbury and Worcester, which are also planning hotels. Kent want a leisure centre where the Colin Blythe Memorial stands, and two housing developments as well, which many members believe will seriously endanger the character of a much-loved ground. Having made a loss of more than £300,000 in 2005, Kent say there is no alternative.

Even the supposedly struggling clubs are not hibernating: Derbyshire are looking at extending their capacity to 15,000 and bidding for one-day internationals. But everyone envies Sussex, with their £10m bequest from Spen Cama.

A redevelopment plan at Hove which will commence this autumn will encompass a conference centre with terrace seating in front, two floors of offices and nine "luxury apartments" on top. "We all want international cricket but that is not feasible with the size of our ground," said Gus Mackay, the chief executive. "So we want to become the best non-Test ground in the country." There will be strong competition for that title.

© Wisden Cricketer's Almanack