This three-match Test series against Sri Lanka has been very low-key and, sitting here at a drab and rainy Rose Bowl on the eve of the third Test, it is easy to side with those who say that we should not be here at all for an England Test match.
Practice today, on preview day, has been affected and the pre-match interviews with the captains have had to take place in the indoor school. There are no extra temporary stands here, as Hampshire do not expect crowds to be very large. And the radio commentary boxes look out over third man, which is not ideal.
But simply to criticise would not be entirely fair. Hampshire have worked tirelessly to win the chance to stage their first Test match – and become English cricket’s tenth Test venue – and, in particular, their club chairman Rod Bransgrove has fulfilled a great ambition in bringing the England Test team here to the outskirts of Southampton.
He has spent a lot of his personal fortune in developing the Rose Bowl and he would argue that the ground needs Test cricket to survive as a premier sports and events venue in the south of England. I will be speaking to him on Test Match Special during the first day of this game, so it will be interesting to hear his views.
My opinion, in the general debate surrounding England’s Test venues, is that there are counties out there who are currently getting into financial difficulties due to their desire either to remain as primary Test venues or their ambition of joing the club. Would it not just be better to have six main Test grounds, spread regionally, which the ECB help to maintain as venues suitable for staging Test cricket?
Test cricket needs history and tradition, and playing in historic and well-known grounds always adds an awful lot to the occasion. This series, to me, has suffered so far because of two Tests being staged at new international grounds. The same arguments against Cardiff also apply here.
It has been noticeable how Lord’s, during the second Test, managed to sell far more tickets. People still want to watch Test cricket at Lord’s, for its own sake, and I am not surprised at all to hear the rumours that the ECB are about to perform a U-turn and switch one of next summer’s Tests against the West Indies to Lord’s from Cardiff.
That Lord’s also reportedly bid £1 million for that game, whereas Cardiff only guaranteed half of that sum, does make it strange that Lord’s was not chosen originally.
Anyway, back to the Rose Bowl, which is an attractive ground in a lovely setting and I think we should all wait to see how the Test pans out – given reasonable weather of course. There is speculation that the pitch will have been built to last and so bowlers might not have very much in it for them, but again let’s wait and see.
Jimmy Anderson is fit to return to lead the England attack (most probably in place of Steven Finn) and there is no doubt that England missed Anderson at Lord’s.
He seems to relish the responsibility of being the leader of the England bowling pack – however unofficial that title is – and despite his quiet public persona there is not doubt too that he has influence inside the dressing room and I imagine he is not so quiet an individual inside the squad.
England’s bowling was, frankly, rubbish at Lord’s – it was ill-directed, and lacking in quality. Andrew Strauss, in his pre-Test interiew just now, came as close as he is likely to being heavily critical of the bowling in the last Test – when Strauss says it “was not as good as it could be” you know he was very unimpressed with it!
So let’s see what unfolds at the Rose Bowl’s debut Test, although it does seem very strange that not a single one of this summer’s seven Tests, against Sri Lanka and India, are being staged any further north than Nottingham.