Giles Clarke, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has offered to intervene to help Warwickshire progress with their ground redevelopment plans.
Warwickshire officials face a series of make-or-break meetings in the coming days and Clarke’s assurances could prove vital in convincing officials at Birmingham City Council of Edgbaston’s importance to English cricket.
The problem at the moment revolves staging agreements. Birmingham City Council, who have expressed a willingness to lend around £15?million at a preferential interest rate in order to enable a scheme that should benefit the profile and economy of the city, are understandably keen to have assurances as to Warwickshire’s ability to repay the debt.
As a consequence, they want to see written guarantees from the ECB that Edgbaston will be allocated a Test every year.
The ECB cannot do this. With more grounds than ever competing to host Tests, the ECB can’t be seen to disadvantage other counties. Warwickshire’s current staging agreement ends in 2012.
However, the ECB do understand Warwickshire’s predicament. They (and specifically the Major Match Group which allocates the biggest games) are keen to encourage grounds to redevelop but appreciate that it is difficult to embark on large capital projects without greater security over future income.
Therefore Clarke, a successful businessman himself, has offered to present a case to Birmingham City Council. While he cannot offer the written guarantees that Warwickshire might want, it is anticipated that his strong words of support and assurances will prove adequate.
It is also possible that the ECB will offer Warwickshire financial support to compensate for years without Test cricket. While that would be a controversial tactic, there is a growing realisation at Lord’s that the current bidding system for major matches is untenable. Sooner or later a major venue will over extend themselves in a desperate attempt to retain Test cricket and face financial ruin.
The new television deal will also help. Each county is likely to receive between £250,000 and £400,000 a year extra as part of the recently signed contracts. As the ECB’s distribution of funds has yet to be clarified, however, Warwickshire have not included it in their business plan. Clarke will also be able to offer assurances to the council that the money is guaranteed.
Whether such assurances are enough to convince the council that Warwickshire’s financial assumptions are reasonable remains to be seen. It is possible that the club will know within days whether the council will back their project. If they do then the cabinet will need to approve the deal in November. Warwickshire’s committee will then meet to discuss whether they are happy to take on the debt. If any of those parts of the process fail, the redevelopment will stall.
Edgbaston has many advantages as a venue. Not only does it have an excellent track record of hosting big games, it is well situated geographically, has a large capacity and is, arguably, the only venue in the city that is known around the world.