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By Derek Pringle
Most of the fulminating and sense of grievance will come from those venues wanting an Ashes Test but not getting one. Yet, the biggest disappointment in the latest round of major match allocations, at least to the players, is the loss of the Lord’s one-day final.
Once a pearl in the summer calendar, or two in the days of 55 and 60-over competitions, the Lord’s final has been shifted north by the England and Wales Cricket Board. From 2020 until at least 2024, it will be held at Trent Bridge, a move that looks suspiciously like a sop – the Nottingham ground having not been awarded an Ashes Test for 2023.
A day out at a Lord’s final, whether for players or supporters, was often a career highlight. I played in four of them, three Benson & Hedges and one NatWest Trophy, and the sense of occasion was huge, spine-tingling even. The fact that I was on the winning side just once is, of course, a major source of regret, though it did not detract much from them being high points in a county career that also included five Championships and three John Player League titles.
Much of that grandeur will remain but Lord’s added a sheen and cachet that Trent Bridge, fabulous ground that it is, cannot hope to match, and that is a shame for both players and supporters.
Naturally, MCC regret any reduction in major event cricket at Lord’s but the sad truth is that the one-day final is no longer the big ticket event it once was, at least commercially. Indeed, the last time the ground sold out for a one-day final was 15 years ago, with recent crowds varying between 17-20,000, which is 60-65 per cent capacity. Trent Bridge holds 17,500, so you can see the arithmetic being pieced together by the money men at the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The move also gives a pretty firm indication as to how ECB now view the one-day competition, currently sponsored by Royal London, in relation to their other domestic products. With the new franchise-based T20 tournament due to get underway in 2020, it is plain that the 50-over competition has been relegated to fourth place behind the two T20 tournaments and the County Championship.
Trent Bridge, while no doubt happy at being awarded the final, will nevertheless be furious at being omitted from the Ashes rota for 2023. I’m not sure what criteria count most when the major match group, chaired by Ian Lovett, the former chairman of Middlesex, make their decisions over who gets what, but the recent variability of Trent Bridge’s pitch may have played a part.
Pitches are an inexact science, as even the drop-in ones prepared in controlled conditions off site tend to vary from month to month. In 2013, England won a tight Test against Australia on the final day, which is the best testament a pitch can have. A year later, the biggest bore draw ensues against India on a deck so devoid of life that the International Cricket Council felt moved to criticise it.
Then in 2015, Australia are blown away in three days, thrilling viewing but with a fruity pitch hastening their demise. The surface at Trent Bridge may not have come into the reckoning but you can see how it might have swayed things if it did.
Another ground that will be miffed at missing out on an Ashes Test is the Ageas Bowl. The brainchild of Rod Bransgrove, who birthed, bathed and bottle-fed it until it became the handsome venue it is today, the Ageas Bowl suffers from being situated in an area unused to holding Test matches.
True, it stands fewer than 20 miles from Broadhalfpenny Down, the cradle of cricket, but it has struggled to sell out previous Tests held there – though never an Ashes one – in 2011 and 2014.
With Cardiff already having been a pioneer for non-traditional venues, and not really nailing it, you can see why the major match group might not want to stray far from the big six Test venues, albeit with Trent Bridge missing out this time, when it comes to the Aussies.
*This article originally featured in The Cricket Paper’s 16 February 2018 edition. Subscribe: www.bit.ly/TCP-Sub