Friday, July 10, 2009

Never mind the cricket - try the Chardonnay

The self-congratulatory air in and around Sophia Gardens this week, from Simon Jones to Max Boyce and every Taff in-between, has been stomach churning. Add in the truly ghastly singing by all the male singers who couldn’t be prised away from the microphone (Katherine Jenkins was wonderful though) and you have an event of cloying sentimentality to remind us English why we only under duress cross Offa’s Dyke. That Glamorgan has a cricket tradition I happily acknowledge and that from time to time they have delivered quality players for England (even an England Captain) I thank them for as well. But in truth this tradition gives them no more right to host an Ashes Test match than Gloucestershire or Leicestershire or Sussex or Kent or any of the other counties which play at small country grounds. Quite what the economics of the Welsh Development Agency’s decision to subvent the redevelopment of Glamorgan’s ground are will no doubt remain opaque. In Cardiff this week in the media there was plenty of unaudited bombast about how much money one Ashes Test was bringing to the City. Unaudited and unchallengeable like most of these things it will no doubt become an urban myth that the millions spent on the SWALEC stadium will be covered by all the English and Aussie fans that descended on the city and tried to drink it dry. The Glamorgan board is congratulating themselves about how little the SWALEC cost compared with other grounds – maybe so but surely they could have spent these millions more elegantly; this is a modern ground utterly devoid of any architectural merit. The Pavilion looks like a 1960s secondary modern school.

At the ground my impression was that by far the majority nationality was English and that the Aussies outnumbered the Welsh comfortably. Plastic daffodils and leaks were not much in evidence but there were plenty of Kangaroos. Now this may all sound churlish and bigoted and I apologise for that. But whilst it is true that the organisers have put on a decent show (the flat wicket aside) so they should have – that is a necessary condition of hosting a Test match anywhere. Had this Test been at Trent Bridge or Old Trafford (with their historically far superior claims and their bigger grounds) then of course we know for sure that they would be well organised – they’ve done it for a hundred years or more. And had it been at Durham with their bigger ground and far stronger claim (they have after all already successfully hosted Tests) then few would have complained. There was even a strong argument that the Rosebowl was well ahead of Cardiff in the queue to host a Test. The process by which Cardiff was selected to host an Ashes Test ought to be thoroughly investigated – not by the complicit members of the England and Wales Cricket Board and all their past and present Morgans and Morrises but by an independent body concerned about the way public money is spent. But I doubt that it will happen.

Underpinning the finances of Cardiff’s Test match adventure, aside from public money, was the determined pursuit of commercial sponsorship and of corporate hospitality in particular. That’s the modern world of sporting profit and loss - offensive though it might be for ordinary fans to see hundreds of guests at events who are there to be entertained not by happenings on the field of play but by the food and drink in the corporate lounges. At Cardiff these free-loaders have been given the best seats in the “Really Welsh” (sic) Pavilion and when one of the best passages of play was underway after lunch on the second day, with Freddie Flintoff challenging young Philip Hughes, these seats were virtually empty (see photograph). So were the rows of the pavilion occupied by cricket fans eagerly anticipating the Ashes Test match? Or were they there for the food and the wine and only eventually returned to their seats to sleep off their lunches. You decide!

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