BIRMINGHAM, England, (Reuters) – Warwickshire County Cricket Club, which hosted the England-India test that ended on Saturday with the home side crowned the world’s best, has incurred a 29 million pound debt to retain its international status but has no regrets about the “risk”.
A new four-floor stand at the Edgbaston pavilion end that has increased capacity by 25 per cent to 25,000 — making the ground the second-largest cricket venue in England behind Lord’s — should ensure many more international games in Birmingham despite the financial burden.
The significant investment mirrors similar radical steps taken by other English cricket grounds such as Headingley in Leeds and Old Trafford in Manchester, as they stake their futures on remaining as major match hosts.
“A number of us were in a difficult position three years ago when existing staging agreements were coming to an end and there was a real threat that we would not get any more test matches unless we delivered top-class facilities,” Warwickshire’s chief executive Colin Povey told Reuters.
“There was no certainty about our future revenues. The club could not have remained without being a test venue. If you are an Edgbaston, Trent Bridge or Old Trafford you have an infrastructure that is way too big for domestic cricket and without international revenues we could not remain.
“That was true of us. We could not have retained a 20,000 seater stadium for championship cricket in front of 1,200 people. That’s why I’d rather be in the position we are in now than where we were three years ago with outdated facilities.”
Warwickshire started the development four years ago and despite a few teething troubles with malfunctioning new permanent floodlights caused by a power cut, the feedback has been positive.
“The new stand is magnificent,” England’s Tim Bresnan told Reuters.
“I would put it up there in the top three of world playing areas. That’s from a preparation point of view, and the viewing gallery is absolutely outstanding — a very comfortable place to sit and watch cricket.”
It is important that such feedback has been forthcoming given the level of the investment.
The club borrowed 20 million pounds ($32.55 million) from Birmingham City Council to be repaid over a 30-year period. Another 9 million was created by a land deal enabling development around the ground.
A grant from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) funded the floodlights, while a remaining 3 million came from the club.
“Warwickshire had to take that risk as they could have spent 5 million and then had to redevelop again in six or seven years as facilities advance,” former Warwickshire and England fast bowler Gladstone Small – who sits on the club committee – told Reuters.
“At least now this is for a long time which should keep Edgbaston at the forefront among the most prestigious test grounds in the world.”
Povey, a former chief executive of beer company Carlsberg, believes that if the ECB had not become more demanding in terms of its test match staging requirements then grounds such as Edgbaston and Old Trafford would not have made the improvements.
The arrival of three extra test venues in Britain over the last decade — Cardiff, The Rose Bowl and Durham — has meant that the six traditional test venues — Lord’s, The Oval, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford, Headingley and Edgbaston — can no longer take their host status for granted. Competition is fierce.
All the major grounds made a presentation to the ECB this month, pitching their facilities before an announcement is made on who will host prestigious series in upcoming years, like the Ashes in 2013 and 2015 and India in 2014. The results will be known in September.