For the second consecutive Thursday, everyone at Old Trafford will be on tenterhooks. Exactly one week after Lancashire clinched their first outright County Championship for 77 years in such dramatic, unforgettable circumstances in Taunton, attention will turn to the ECB’s Major Match Group – and the battle to stage a 2013 Ashes Test.
It may be pretty dry stuff in comparison to that last afternoon in Somerset. But the announcement, which will be made by the ECB after a recommendation from their Major Match Group, arguably has a greater significance to Lancashire even than that long-awaited pennant.
“As a club financially, getting an Ashes Test is critical,” admitted Jim Cumbes, the long-serving chief executive for whom a positive decision would cap a memorable final year in office before he steps down this winter. “From being what at one stage was looking at being disastrous year, it could well turn out to be a fantastic year.”
Cumbes has admitted that the legal challenges and consequent delays to the redevelopment of Old Trafford left Lancashire walking such a financial precipice that there were occasions during the summer when they were struggling to pay the players’ wages.
Those delays have cost them around £5m in grants and legal fees, and made the revenue that would be generated by an Ashes Test in 2013 even more imperative. But they have also left Lancashire with a battle to persuade the ECB that Old Trafford will definitely be ready.
So far, not a single first-class match has been played on the square since it was realigned last winter – which is why, for all the success the Lancashire team have enjoyed on outgrounds this summer, they must play plenty of Championship cricket at Old Trafford next year.
Cumbes and other key officials presented their case at Lord’s last month, and are understood to be bidding for one of the premium packages that include an Ashes Test in both 2013 and 2015. But Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire have also submitted strong bids, and three into two doesn’t go.
“We have done everything we have been asked to do by the ECB,” Cumbes added. “The work on the ground will be completed by the summer of 2013. Bringing the Ashes back to Old Trafford is what we have all been working towards since we found out in 2006 that we didn’t have a 2009 Test.”
They are expected to be put out of their misery at around noon on Thursday September 22 – so there won’t be quite as much nervous waiting as there was a week earlier. The decision will be made public by the ECB later in the day.