This summer marks a significant milestone in the history of Edgbaston Cricket Ground. Brian Halford reports on how things are taking shape.
By the time Warwickshire get to their 16th and final Twenty20 group match this summer, against Leicestershire at Edgbaston on Friday July 15, the enthusiasm of even the most ardent fan of cricket’s shortest genre might be wearing thin.
Most people, the players certainly, will be pretty much ‘Twenty20-d out’. So interest in the Foxes’ visit will probably be flagging.
Or it would have been. Suddenly that fixture looks a bit special. Historic, even.
For July 15 will be the day the new Pavilion End of Edgbaston ‘goes live’.
The project, which has cost around £30million (mostly supplied by Birmingham City Council) and dominated the club’s day-to-day operations for much of the last decade, will be operational.
For the first time since the 1890s, the Edgbaston Road end of Edgbaston will be new and towering instead of ageing and disintegrating.
The journey has been long, complex, difficult and expensive but, driven by chief executive Colin Povey, Warwickshire have negotiated it.
The developers Galliford Try are expected to hand over the keys as planned on July 1.
An official opening, with a Royal presence, will follow on July 25 leading up to the showpiece of the Test match against India, starting on August 10.
“We have targeted the Test as the critical event,” Povey said. “But between July 1 and then we have to get the stadium operationally up to speed.
“We want to move everyone in as quickly as possible after July 1, ideally for the Leicestershire game on the 15th. It will be pretty full-on but you have to endure the changeover at some stage.
“We will have some Twenty20s, televised games and a championship match so all areas of the operation will be tried out.
“The Test will be a real challenge because the building will still be very new. We will go pretty quickly from low crowds and no facilities to all-singing all-dancing – and we know we have to get it right.
“If you don’t have key areas like the dressing-rooms, match control, media and conference and banqueting in good nick you will feel the pain immediately.
“We don’t want Mr Tendulkar turning on the showers and complaining the water’s cold.”
Those interim fixtures include one championship match, against Sussex, starting on July 20.
The Royal presence (still to be identified but cricket-mad Prince Philip looks favourite) will utter a few words on July 25 – then all thoughts turn towards the Test.
Well, not quite all thoughts.
In one way, the completion of the new pavilion will be just a beginning. Warwickshire must then embrace their monster debt, having to repay the council a whopping £1million a year for each of the next 20 years.
Now that is a test. At the best of times. And a recession is far from the best of times.
So is Povey comfortable with that debt?
“Comfortable is probably not the way to describe it,” he said. “It is a significant amount of money. But we have got a business plan, based on that level of repayment, that we think works.
“That is not to say we won’t have to execute our plan very well and we have revisited and refined it as we have gone along. But we have a plan – and we have to deliver it.
“Instrumental to that plan is getting regular international cricket at Edgbaston and making a success of the international cricket we do get and I am very optimistic that the debate with the ECB and Major Match Group, in terms of who gets what matches, is going in the right direction.
“We have a firm allocation in place and are well advanced in discussions about a further allocation until 2016.
“The prospect of that fundamental supply of international cricket, which was the raison d’etre for this whole project, is much healthier than when we started.
“We will probably end up in a better place than we thought we might be. But we must continue to deliver, in terms of cricket and non-cricket revenues.
“Ticket revenue for the Tests is insured so we are not exposed to risk from the weather.
“There is a risk if you don’t get a Test allocated but, as long as it’s known from far out, we can plan for it so it’s not the end of the world.
“What is very painful is when you don’t know from one year to the next if you have any international cricket or not. Hopefully, that situation is history.
“A lot of hard work remains ahead. We will never be able to sit back and relax and say ‘life’s rosy’ but we were never in that position anyway.
“We have a plan, with some of the risks within it scaled back from where we were when we started the project, and we are months away from having a genuinely world-class stadium for this generation and the next.
“As it’s taking shape now it looks like a proper cricket ground and the quality of space and facilities inside will be excellent for the purposes of cricket and for non-match days as well.
“At other grounds, except for Lord’s and The Oval, developments have been compromised one way or the other. That’s not the case here. We have got the best of both worlds.”
That’s a happy situation to be in. Just one part of the process remains – paying for it.