Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts
The Olympic Stadium in London is moving closer to hosting matches in the 2019 World Cup after a full inspection of the ground* found that the pitch dimensions complied with requirements for one-day internationals. A final decision on the use of the stadium is expected in the coming months, but the London Stadium, as it is now named, is viewed as having a better than even chance of staging games.
The move, which is strongly supported by the ICC, is an attempt to use the 2019 tournament to attract new audiences to the sport and produce the best spectacle possible. The London Stadium has a capacity of 60,000 - twice that of any other cricket ground in the UK. It appears likely to host two or three matches, and its capacity raises the possibility of it being used to stage some of the most enticing games in the group stage. The ICC has been struck by the possibility of large crowds at the London Stadium, similar to those at multi-sport grounds like the MCG and Eden Park during the 2015 World Cup, adding to the excitement surrounding the tournament.
The venue is also being explored as a possibility to host a stand-alone opening ceremony. The 1999 World Cup began with an infamously damp firework display in drizzle at Lord's, and it is hoped that a glitzy opening ceremony at the London Stadium, combined with hosting matches there, could help to ensure the 2019 tournament is more successful in engaging the wider public. Fan zones around the country are also being explored to help promote the tournament.
Were the London Stadium to be selected to host matches, it would be likely to use drop-in pitches, as the ground is normally used by the English football club West Ham United. The 2019 World Cup is scheduled for outside the football season, and it seems most likely that all the matches at the London Stadium would be played within a short time frame, giving ground staff sufficient time to prepare without encroaching too much upon preparations for the following football season. The London Stadium has long been considered a viable option for T20 cricket - Essex hope to play matches at the ground in 2018 - although hosting 50-over matches for the first time, for a non-cricket specialist stadium, during the World Cup could carry unforeseen risks.
However, there could be some resistance to the plans among English counties. At the end of 2014, the ECB announced the full allocation of matches for the 2019 World Cup: 11 venues were guaranteed a certain number of matches, adding up to the full 48 in the tournament. Should the ECB now attempt to unpick this arrangement, counties would be certain to demand compensation. Paying this would be well within the financial capabilities of the ECB - its latest accounts announced cash reserves of £73.1m - if it considers using the London Stadium as a tool to grow the sport. Given its capacity, matches at the London Stadium would also be likely to generate more revenue than at other grounds, and so some could be used to compensate any venues that lost matches.
Debate about using the London Stadium also comes against the wider backdrop of the current tussle between the ECB and counties over plans to introduce a new eight-team domestic T20 tournament. Surrey have been one of the most vociferous opponents of the plans. But if the London Stadium is seen as an increasingly viable ground to host matches, it would appear possible that it could be used as a second London venue - in addition to Lord's - for the new T20 competition. Were that the case, The Oval could be at risk of not hosting a side in the new tournament.
*24/01/2017: It was earlier reported that ICC conducted the inspection, which was not the case