Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Green Green Grass of Home

"You win here, why wouldn't you want to play here?" - Ian Smith, at the end of the Old Trafford Test

Why not indeed?

The five venues for the next Ashes series are Lords, Edgbaston, Headingley, The Oval and Cardiff.

As I've pointed out here before, the atmosphere and the fact that overseas players tend to be able to raise their game at 'the home of cricket' means that Lords is already a neutral ground, but that's just a historical accident that we have to live with, and no sensible person can argue that the Lords Ashes Test is one of the great sporting occasions in the world - even though England haven't actually won it for 74 years....

After 2005 Edgbaston has to be pretty much a given, Headingley could still have some old ghosts still wandering around from 1981, and everyone has warm memories of The Oval But Cardiff? Cardiff??!!

Thanks to a blatant stitch up by the former head of the ECB, who just happens to be a Glamorgan member, the next Ashes series starts in Cardiff. The test was awarded to Cardiff before the plans had actually been approved by the local authority (Talk about a 'loaded gun to the head'), so well before any work had been done to start redevelopment, before any Health and Safety certificates had been granted and before anyone had actually checked to see that the wicket was of test standard. On the third point, they still haven't.

Because it's a Division 2 ground -and most of the England side play for Division One counties, and because of central contracts - the new ground will be just as much of a mystery to most of the England side as the visitors. The idea of home advantage is that you feel at home. You know the geography, you know your way around - you don't have to ask the way to the nets, or spend half an hour in the morning looking for the car-park. If you've been a regular in the England side for a few years you may well have a favourite, 'lucky' corner of the changing room. These things sound pretty mundane - possibly frivoulous, but when added together, they can matter.

More importantly, you know the wicket and how it plays, and you know the outfield - which parts are lush, and which cut short because of the nets or an extension to the square. You'll know which fielding positions have a poor sight background because of windows or a dark wall that make it difficult to pick up the flight of the ball. You'll know the direction of prevailing winds at different time of the day. Yes, you can go and look for these things when you arrive, but with proper home advantage they should already be second nature. If a series is going to be close, you need to take advantage of every little edge you can - and make sure the opposition can't.

This sort of home advantage may well only give you an edge of five or ten runs a game, or maybe one catch. That doesn't sound a lot, but remember Edgbaston and Trent Bridge...

Cardiff may well deserve international cricket - and hats off to the Welsh authority for realising that some judicious state investment will pay great dividends for the local economy, but surely they should have started with a few ODIs first to get their eye in - and maybe a test or two against lesser opponents.

Do you think Australia would move one of their Ashes tests to Hobart, or Cairns? There's a reason the first Ashes test is more often than not in Brisbane - because it's incredibly uncomfortable for those not fully acclimitised to Australian conditions. On those lines there might be an arguement for having the Cardiff test at the beginning of March perhaps - but you could argue that for any county ground in England - apart from Worcester which is invariably under water at that time of year.

Much easier to go for some cold, blustery conditions with bowlers and fielders having to cope with gale force winds and temperatures around 15 degrees - Old Trafford in May!

No comments: