Hampshire look set to be one of the main beneficiaries when the ECB announce their major match allocation next week.
They are expected to be awarded one of the most coveted games in the schedule – an Ashes Test in 2023. While the club hosted their first Test against Sri Lanka in 2011 and a second against India in 2014, the opportunity to host a Test against Australia would represent the culmination of many years’ work – and many millions of pounds of investment – for the club’s benefactor, Rod Bransgrove.
While it is not anticipated that Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl ground will host any other Tests during the period, it is likely it will be given a couple of international T20 fixtures each year and confirmed as the base for one of the teams in the new T20 competition scheduled to start in 2020.
The allocation – which will account for major matches staged in England and Wales from 2020 to 2024 – was originally scheduled to be announced on February 14, though it is possible that deadline could slide if the ECB board demand more explanation before ratification.
There could also be good news for Lord’s in the allocation. While the reduction in England’s Test programme (they will play six Tests per summer from 2020 rather than seven as is the case at present) looked likely to harm them, confidence within the MCC remains high that they will continue to host two Tests a year. In summers where a team plays five Tests against England – a scenario that is currently only relevant to India and Australia – Lord’s would host one match in that series and a further Test against a side outside the ICC’s Test Championship. Lord’s is also likely to be confirmed as a host for a new team in the T20 competition.
The other likely host venues for the new T20 competition are The Oval, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge, Cardiff, Manchester and Headingley though it is possible a few games will be played at other venues including Bristol and Durham.
The remainder of the Tests will be split between England’s traditional Test grounds. With Durham no longer eligible to host Test cricket as part of a raft of penalties imposed on the club following their financial problems and Cardiff understood not to have applied to host any Test cricket during the period, the competition for the remaining three Ashes games will be limited to Edgbaston, Trent Bridge, The Oval, Old Trafford and Headingley.
But with the ECB having altered the process by which games are allocated, it is the grounds with the largest capacity – The Oval, Old Trafford and Edgbaston – which are best placed to win the fight to host those Ashes Tests in 2023.
Whereas clubs used to bid against one another – sometimes being seduced into over-spending in their desperation to host games – they now apply for packages of matches on the understanding that ticket sales (but not catering or hospitality revenues) will be shared with the ECB. For the most popular games, such as Ashes series, that revenue share is understood to be 50% of ticket sales.