Bid Up ECB

Terry Tibbs

"Pakistan ODI. Talk to me."

While us esteemed English cricket fans continue to salivate over the records that fell during the 1st Ashes Test in Brisbane, some attentions have already turned to the 2013 series – not least the venues that are hoping to catch a piece of the action.

Cardiff’s emergence as a Test venue in 2009 was as much as a kick up the proverbial for some clubs as it was for those with aspirations beyond welcoming Fred, John and Rover for all four days of a rain sodden County Championship fixture.

But there is something fundamentally troubling about the approach. It’s barely a secret that it took a lot of wonga – some if it from the Welsh public purse – to deal the persuasive hand upon the ECB. And what happened in return? Old Trafford and Headingley benefiting from multi-million pound facelifts.

I say ‘benefiting’ guardedly; are clubs now too quick to gamble sustainability on a short-term international fix? Staging a Test match is the preserve of those able to afford it as much as anything, and the big money bids count. “You say 10, I’ll give you 20,” says T. Tibbs of Somewhereshire to the ECB. “OK. Have England v West Indies, 2nd Test” is the reply.

If money helps a ground secure an Ashes Test match, for example, it has to come from somewhere. One obvious source would be filling the grounds for the limited overs games, particularly Twenty20. And if that is the case, then it somewhat has an impact on what the ambitions are at a particular club.

With most of the 2013 Ashes Test rights up for grabs, clubs are probably already looking to the bank balance to see how much they can push their bids – alas there is no ‘Buy It Now’ price. But the money has to come from somewhere, no?

Gate revenue would seem the most plausible source of income that could then be set aside for The Bid. Filling the ground up for a Twenty20 match in the sultry July heat lights up the accountants’ eyes like you wouldn’t believe. Imagine that repeated all the way to Finals Day… ker-ruddy-ching!

Twenty20 has been accused of threatening the vitality of the longer form of the game almost since its iconoclastic inception. But perhaps there’s a point. Is it dictating the ambitions and targets of men off the field; particularly those of a county in search of international gratification.

So, when Glamorgan implements sweeping changes in search of a richer vein of one day form, what is the real motivation? It is evident that the last day failure to gain promotion to County Championship Division One held little sway when the axe fell on Jamie Dalrymple’s captaincy.

The rest would be history, if it wasn’t so badly steeped in farce… but the demand for one day fulfilment is so prevalent in Glamorgan’s lurch from relative on-the-field stability to absurdity that it suggests the financial rewards that accompany limited overs success (in terms of attendances) are too much at the forefront of policy-making.

If Cardiff wants to host an Ashes Test in 2013, it’s going to have to pull out the stops. Old Trafford and Edgbaston are upping their game, Headingley already has. But this competitive scenario is to be loathed. Somewhere along the line, someone’s going to push themselves too far…

That is why the bidding system for international fixtures must be brought to an end. It is doing the domestic game no good. This may be filed under Rants and Ramblings, but I am not alone in this. Speaking at the Business in Sport and Leisure conference recently, Keith Bradshaw of the MCC urged the end of the bidding system. Geoffrey Boycott last year too.

And it turns out that Deloitte had some pretty concerning figures to back up such concerns; during the summer, a report revealed that Test venues were in debt to the tune of £91m!

Look at it another way. Clubs want to host an international fixture, so upgrade their facilities. To fund this, ticket prices go up. And what follows? Attendances start to fall. It’s as described: an unsustainable model.

Meanwhile, the haves and the have nots in English cricket grow further apart and the have nots want to keep an exhaustive Twenty20 schedule in order to maximise revenue streams.  The flaw being not everyone can afford to pay to go to umpteen Twenty20 Cup group games. Catch 22? Not ‘alf!

I’m not pretending to have any solutions to the problem. But the current system cannot continue. It could just be harming the game in more ways than you may care to think. Keep the speculative bidding for that nice cardigan on eBay.

FOR ANOTHER VIEW, check out Steve James‘ blog over at The Telegraph

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