WITH its usual shock value, the announcement of venues for England's international matches for the next five years was made, with the big winner in the lottery, or rather the carefully modulated upshot of the research carried out by the Major Matches Group, is again Sophia Gardens, Cardiff.
The big loser is the Rose Bowl, Southampton, the newest international ground in the country. An Ashes Test has been awarded to Cardiff in 2015 but not to Southampton. A series of match packages - platinum, gold, silver and bronze - was approved yesterday by the England and Wales Cricket Board, which unanimously backed the MMG's recommendations. More matches will be played at Lord's than on any other ground, but the MMG were also keen to ensure that the international game continued to be played nationwide.
Lord Morris, chairman of the MMG, said: "We are very keen to see England cricket at Test level played in all the regions. It is not London centric, or Midlands centric, that's why we were very supportive about developing cricket in Wales and in Durham or wherever it is."
The most eye-catching awards were for the 10 Ashes Tests to be played in 2013 and 2015. The two series are being held so close together because of a restructuring of schedules. None of the matches has been awarded to Headingley, one of the oldest of all English grounds, which did not bid for one of the associated gold packages, believed to cost GBP12m (AU$18.8m).
There will be no Ashes Test further north than Nottingham in 2015, though both Durham and Old Trafford in Manchester have one apiece in 2013. Redevelopment work has just begun at Old Trafford and there must be at least a small doubt about it being finished in time.
Rod Bransgrove, the chairman of Hampshire who has been the driving force behind the Rose Bowl, said: "All the indications were that we would do well and this is a bit of a shock. In the tender process two years ago we came out on top and in the last marker research conducted by the ECB we were top for customer satisfaction. We will have to find out where we went wrong."
The Rose Bowl staged its inaugural Test match earlier this year, but the match was ruined by rain which prevented it showing what it could do. Since the Ashes Test of 2009, Sophia Gardens has been a disappointing venue with low crowds.
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