Warwickshire's attempt to redevelop Edgbaston has received a boost with the England and Wales Cricket Board granting preferential loans to international venues.
Warwickshire plan to borrow about £15 million and are keen to minimise the interest on the debt. Though the details of the ECB's scheme are unclear, the rates are sure to be substantially lower than those offered commercially. It is believed that the ECB will limit loans to about £1 m or £2 m per county.
The news is among a raft of investment proposals worth about £30 million over five years. Most eye-catching are the Board's desire to embrace floodlit cricket and to improve drainage facilities at all international venues.
Neither issue is of huge relevance to Edgbaston. Apart from one area in front of the pavilion, it is a quick-drying ground while floodlights, not part of the redevelopment planning application, are unlikely to be added.
Warwickshire are anxious not to jeopardise the project by offending residents who have blocked attempts to install permanent lights. Colin Povey, chief executive, said: "The ECB are upping the level of funding across the board. There should be improvements at all grounds, from recreational to international and we're encouraged by the ECB's tone."
The ECB's fondness for floodlights - backed by £9 million of investment - is a surprise. While research suggests that the public like floodlit cricket, the reality rarely lives up to the marketing dream. The long, light, often chilly and sometimes wet English evenings do not suit the format. Watching cricket then is, more likely, uncomfortable. Matches no longer attract large crowds.
But ECB chairman Giles Clarke says: "Weneed considerably more experience playing day-night games. Secondly, spectators have considerably greater ease coming to watch in the early and late evening. If we've got floodlights, we are in a position to do that."
While £6m has been allocated for the drainage project, millions will also filter into club and school level. A recent survey showed participation in cricket had increased by 27 per cent across both genders. The five-year financial strategy has been drawn up to improve coaching at all levels.
The breakdown of money to be pumped back into the game funded primarily by increases in broadcasting revenue, sponsorship and gate receipts was calculated following an independent review that concluded there was no financial benefit accruing to venues from the staging of major matches. Floodlights or improved drainage are unlikely to be of much use at New Road, either. Once again, the ability to borrow money at preferential rates is likely to be the greatest asset.
* Ian Westwood, the Warwickshire opening batsman, has broken his thumb facing the bowling machine in the nets at Edgbaston. The club are optimistic that it will have recovered sufficiently by the start of the season.