As England look to the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan, it’s clear the competitive landscape of cricket in England and Wales has changed significantly, with the national side transforming themselves from the woeful side of the 1990s into the favourites to win the tournament.
Likewise, the physical landscape of the game has also changed immeasurably, with county clubs up and down the country redeveloping their formerly tired and crumbling grounds in order to compete for the highest-profile and highest-grossing games.
The history of a ground counts for little in a competitive bidding process, where venues are scored on their capacity, facilities – both cricketing and hospitality – and the experience that can be offered to the ever-increasing numbers of fans looking to visit. As a result, many of the leading county clubs have spent millions on undertaking dramatic redevelopments of their grounds to remove the stigma of the old and fuddy-duddy pavilion for the cricketing elite, and drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Traditionalists were appalled when Middlesex bowled the first googly in 1999 by building its now infamous media centre at Lord’s. With architecture by the aptly named Future Designs, the centre acted as a powerplay which moved cricket ground design to a new level.
Warwickshire later appointed AFL Architects to deliver a bold new pavilion at Edgbaston, complete with the now iconic “e” floodlights. Lancashire’s redevelopment of Old Trafford quickly followed, and the dramatic, bright red hospitality centre “The Point” became a fixture at a ground which had been struggling to hold its own as an international arena against competition from other venues.
However, there is a test ahead for any counties wishing to redevelop. Many of the UK’s county grounds are located in heavily built-up, dense residential areas. Surrey, in particular, has experienced difficulties. Although it has just announced a £50m scheme of work to add 15,000 seats, it has had to undertake careful community engagement planning. It must provide reassurances about pressures on local roads, loss of access to light caused by ever-growing stands and, of course, address appeals from those residents lucky enough to live in one of the sought-after flats which overlook the wicket.
Even the recently redeveloped Edgbaston has had to rely on temporary seating for the ICC Champions Trophy fixtures, and in reality, any further growth of the ground is unlikely, despite how much demand may grow.
Although Middlesex has managed to put forward a phased masterplan for a complete redevelopment of Lord’s, with cricket becoming more popular by the season, counties are going to have to think creatively to continue to provide a first-class experience for fans, while keeping the support of local residents. They need to keep the character of their grounds while improving the facilities available, and they need to do all of this while not getting caught out by tight planning restrictions.
Failure to do this will see the growth of the sport on a very sticky wicket indeed.