Grounds For Complaint?

Yesterday the ECB announced which venues would host Ashes tests in 2023. They also announced which grounds would stage games in the dreaded City T20 competition. It surprised absolutely nobody that the traditional big venues (plus Cardiff) monopolised the biggest fixtures. Sigh. However, the decision not to award the Ageas Bowl an Ashes test did raise some eyebrows. Was this the right call? Interestingly Hampshire fan Hector Cappelletti thinks the ECB got this one right. He explains why below …

For someone residing no more than twenty minutes’ walk from the Ageas Bowl and a Hampshire fan of many years, I should have been excited that my county were in the running for an Ashes test. Reality dictated a much different reaction though. For nearly half a century Mick Jagger has been singing that “you can’t always get what you want” but in the case of modern day cricket such a maxim seems rather churlish. Five summers from now the Ashes are set to come to town, the culmination of a dream for some, if not all, in charge of Hampshire County Cricket Club who long believed in the “build it and they will come” mantra. Unfortunately however, the champagne corks will not be popping any time soon.

Fifteen summers have passed since this author first undertook a trip to the Rose Bowl and, unfortunately, the sense of ambivalence toward the stadium has grown with each passing year. Such an opinion could be viewed as cricketing heresy but one finds little agreeable with the ground that replaced the humble, homely Northlands Road headquarters that served the county for over a century.

Granted, the walk from one’s front door to venue is rather pleasant; once across the A27 the route wanders along a sylvan path through Telegraph Woods before one is disgorged into an area behind the western stand and the Nursery Ground. And once inside the venue the initial outlook is particularly noteworthy. Residing on a plateau looking out across the commuter town of Hedge End (little more than a suburb of Southampton itself as the gradual urban sprawl has engulfed any verdant definition between the big city and the satellite locales) toward south-east Hampshire the ground commands stunning views, particularly from the highest vantage points.

Such vistas often come at a price though. Despite housing a rather incongruous hotel along one flank the ground is very much open to the elements; fine on a balmy afternoon but the English cricket season regularly gives with one hand and takes with the other on such matters. Thus, if the wind blows from wrong direction there is nothing to curtail the effects of the breezes and nowhere to escape the chilly blasts without missing the play. On the flip side two significant stands, named after Shane Warne and Colin Ingleby-McKenzie have risen in recent years, seemingly offer protection on those aforementioned balmy days but the translucent materials on the roof arguably provide a similar affect to a giant conservatory roof rather than decent shade. Not all is bad though, leg room is generally capacious whilst the itinerant spectator is able to wander around the main concourse at the summit of the original seating area with near uninterrupted views if so desired.

Long range views may prove stellar but focus on the raison d’etre for one’s visit and matters are not quite so pleasing. This author was once informed that the playing area at the Ageas Bowl is the largest in the country although one suspects that this may be apocryphal. Regardless of whether such a statement is indeed true, one perennially feels as if they are miles away from the action no matter where one is sat or which wicket is being played upon. Throw in the awful fare on offer from the generic food stalls and the experience is eminently memorable, just not in a positive way.

Spectating perpetually remains a trying experience, not aided by the ethos and drive for international fixtures and THAT Ashes test. Seven years ago Hampshire fell on financial hard times and elected to sell the venue to Eastleigh Borough Council. Such apparent altruism extracts its pound of flesh though courtesy of an increasing number of concerts each year. County cricket is not a money-spinner but hosting a gig for Simon Cowell’s latest shiny toy or an ageing rocker generates plenty of alternative income.

First to suffer from these interventions is the ground itself, upon a visit to a T20 Blast contest last summer one was appalled at the state of the scarred outfield, a patchwork of seemingly dying grass battered by the previous weekend’s excesses. Cricket’s low position on the priority list is further illustrated by its lack of promotion in the local area. This author regularly ventures around the twin locales of Hedge End and West End, between which the Ageas Bowl resides, and will often witness posters and cardboard flyers advertising tattoo festivals, vintage weekends, Prosecco tastings, wedding fayres, firework displays, business expos, Christmas parties, New Year celebrations and the like throughout the year. The dearth of similar adverts for county cricket is most conspicuous during the summer though the occasional T20 Blast advert provides the odd exception.

There are other small occurrences that also rankle. Building a new ground offered an opportunity to make a statement to the club’s history or the local area. Instead the ground was named the Rose Bowl, a generic pointer to the red rose of Hampshire but little more than a missed opportunity and potential confusion with the stadium of the same name in Pasadena. Now even the red rose has been sacrificed at the altar of commerce; at least the equivalents at Durham and Lancashire had the grace to include the stadium’s previous name in the new version rather than replacing half with that of a corporate sponsor. Escaping such irritants is also impossible. Hampshire will host 39 ‘days’ of cricket this summer but none will take place outside of the Ageas Bowl’s post code. This has been the status quo ante for the last seven summers.

One would think that the advent of the Ashes would surely quell all such negative issues though. Ashes cricket was the premise for much of the construction at the site so the stadium was tested under the parameters for which it is best suited. Unfortunately such factors are still not enough. Akin to golf’s Ryder Cup, the Ashes has morphed into an overhyped, macho posturing, infantile pantomime. Naturally the series has always received its fair of attention during the days and weeks prior to the first test but recent series have been permeated by an obnoxious attitude resulting in certain acts of chicanery deemed as all part of the game. Similar tomfoolery is likely to be offered when Australia defend the Ashes during the 2019 summer as the series is likely to venture down a tit-for-tat cul-de-sac. Goodness only knows what will be deemed as acceptable five summers down the line. Throw in the aforementioned charmless food, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) priced exorbitantly and minimum ticket prices likely to start at a minimum of 60 pounds each (probably more with five years of inflation and hype) and the attraction soon diminishes.

All of which seems rather Eeyore-esque when one considers the efforts of those in charge of the club itself and the stadium that has come to fruition. Such a term sums up the Ageas Bowl’s existence though. It is a stadium constructed for international cricket and associated events where Hampshire are just unfortunate tenants. Nevertheless, this author intends on watching a handful of days cricket at the Ageas Bowl this summer but all will be a case of watching the players on show (county champions Essex, Cheteshwar Pujara for Yorkshire, Jofra Archer and Rashid Khan for Sussex) rather than because of an affinity with the venue.

I’ve tried, I really have tried to form a bond with the ground, a kinship and a connection. Unfortunately it still leaves me as cold as one of those chilly, brisk breezes that so often wreak havoc on those in attendance. In the aftermath of George Dobell’s Cricinfo piece one member of Twitter proferred that the Ashes should be played at Lord’s, the Oval, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and Headingly rather than newer test venues. One finds it almost impossible to disagree with such sentiments.

Hector Cappelletti 



  • Yes good piece and tend too agree as a frequent visitor for CC matches. Never was going to be any good as a Test ground though. Last time India played a Test Match there was one man and his dog. Why? Well if you go by train you have to bus or taxi from Southampton and back. It may have improved a bit but there never seemed to be enough buses and the queues were horrendous. If you go by car it takes at least an hour and a half, if your lucky, to get out of the car parks. Access is horrendous and really hasn’t improved.
    If your disabled without a car you have to plod up a steep slop to the ticket office which has been a “temporary” cabin for about 10 years. The bus stops at the bottom of the hill. If you don’t take your own food and don’t want to take out a loan to buy on the ground, the nearest shop is Sainsbury about a mile walk. Struggle to do that in the lunch break. A pint after the match? Yes, bar on the ground which is nice, but the nearest pub is over a mile away. Hotel, expensive of course they always are on the ground, nearest bnb about 3 miles away in Hedge End.
    In saying all this, great on a fine day for a county match and from a picturesque point of view lovely. But never an International venue. Sorry Mr Bromsgrove.

  • I’d add that the Tests should be played on the traditional grounds, which we have 2 in the south, 2 in the Midlands and 2 in the north all with easy access from anywhere. Cardiff is too small, Durham might as well be in China and the Bowl see above.

    As for the franchise I really couldn’t care less if they did play it in China, or perhaps on the dark side of the moon where no one can see it.

  • Hampshire fan here and no ambivalence from me – I loathe the place. In addition to the points already made, I’d add;
    1) The horrendous parking costs which given the ground’s location are virtually unavoidable – and the tickets aren’t cheap either.
    2) The terrible pitches ( so bad that the county’s once in a generation fast bowler legged it to another county).
    3) The general contempt I feel for me there as a paying spectator (highlights include not stopping building work while a CC match was going on, the regularly non-working PA and the lack of any refreshments on a day of 30+ degrees temperature).

    It’s nice to read Mark Nicholas bragging that the ground was largely his brainchild (along with revealing things about Robin Smith he really shouldn’t):

    I also must say about the mess England are in with spin:
    1) Rashid is quitting red-ball cricket (to be followed by Morgan, Buttler, Plunkett and probably Willey I suspect). The media are of course using this to confirm Rashid’s lack of fight rather than taking it as a reflection of their and England’s behaviour towards the player.
    2) Leach took 8 wickets in the Lions’ defeat (where’s the media coverage of the game?), but….
    3) On a raging bunsen, Crane took just one wicket in the match and his captain trusted Livingstone ahead of him. No wonder they see Jennings as an FEC!

    (P.S. Don’t think I “just hate Crane” here – I’d love England to have a quality leggie. What I’m getting at is the ridiculous puffery he’s had in the media and England picking players on nonsense – feistiness, looking good in the nets, ER for a leg-spinner – rather than on the stuff that matters).

    • I forgot to add that on the ground allocations, I’m glad Headingley and OT have Ashes’ Tests although the conflict of interest issue with the former leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. I wonder if TB is being punished for how soon the 2015 match finished – and why hasn’t Taunton got a T20I?

      It’s curious that the right franchise venues have been released along with the internationals, almost as an afterthought. A sign of declining enthusiam perhaps? Durham and Somerset are, as predicted, the big losers…. closely followed by Kent, Sussex and Essex. I hope people at those counties are asking their boards some serious questions if they voted for the new tournament.

    • I’ll have something on Rashid soon – possibly tomorrow. Mike Atherton has put forward an interesting idea to stop this kind of thing happening.

      • It’s an awful idea which will kill test cricket. Influx of white ball is already destroying the test talent.. let alone doing what atherton/Strauss want

  • I suppose there is also a question about what direction do the ECB grounds/stadia to take in the future, having a lot of different International grounds helps spread the game around the Country but limits the bigger grounds ability to get bigger by diverting revenue. One advantage to the specator of the competition is it forced grounds to improve their facilities but has also lead to counties taking on a lot of debt.

    With the ECB having big plans for T20 do they need to get the bigger ground of say 16,000 to 25,000 rather than having 14 grounds at 10,000? If the T20 doesn’t take off that would leave a lot of the current Test match grounds in a fair bit of trouble and if he really takes off will the ECB look to switch matches to football grounds and cut the counties out

  • Frankly I’m bloody glad that the ****** Bowl hasn’t secured a Test. T’would have been a travesty had it done so.
    A smack in the eye for Branson, sorry Bromsgrove.
    As for the T20 comp – predictable. One could almost choke from laughing.

  • got to say I’m glad Rashid is retiring red ball cricket because I’m sick of hearing about how amazing he is and how poorly he’s been treated when he hasn’t ever delivered it on the international stage.

  • The really terrible thing about the Bowl is the lack of access by almost all forms of transport which should disqualify it.
    What also cheers me up is that Mr Bransgrove thought that he could buy test cricket and apart from one game it hasn’t worked.
    There are 6 traditional grounds spread throughout the country and they are where tests should be played

  • If the traditional 6 grounds are going to hold test matches, it seems ok to me, as they are spread over the entire country, bar the south west, so maybe something to look at there, though most folk still live within reasonable travelling distance of at least one.
    I have long advocated white ball internationals being spread over the other grounds. After all, as has been mentioned, various other entertainments are often held at these venues, so facilities presumably pass the required inspections. This means technically there should be no problems with them holding high profile cricket matches, which after all is what they were originally created for. As there’s are so many limited over matches these days most grounds could get to stage one at some time during the season. This might be a plus factor in helping increase county memberships. I see no reason why the ‘big 6’ should profit at the expense of the rest.

  • As a nearby resident and regular visitor to the Rose Bowl, I agree with some of Hector’s views – but still think he’s being overly negative and influenced by a heavy dew of nostalgia.

    The ground’s location, in no man’s land in the Southampton suburbs and miles away from a mainline train station, and its consequent access problems, is and will always be its biggest Achilles heel (like that of my beloved Riverside). Hampshire have done their best to alleviate this, but only with partial success – any big event at the ground inevitably leads to traffic chaos. I moved to Southampton 10 years ago so have no memory of Northlands Road – but its site was much closer to the city centre and just about walkable from the station. Many other counties have also abandoned outgrounds for cost and practicality reasons.

    The view is indeed good from most areas of the ground. Rod Bransgrove certainly extracts the maximum from visitors, both on ticket prices and on food and drink, but no more so than the other big cricket grounds, and the food is pretty much the same standard as at all of the other grounds I’ve visited.

    Other counties also use their grounds for pop concerts and the like – that’s just common economic sense as nobody makes anything from an empty ground. There is a distinct lack of promotion of cricket in the area around the ground, but that’s not of any consequence as most people will check the fixture list online to see if there’s a game on.

    Hampshire are still on a bit of a learning curve as regards Tests – the organisation of their first Test in 2011 was shambolic at times, but in 2014 they showed they’d learnt from some of their mistakes. When the Bowl hosts the India Test this September we’ll see how far they’ve come.

    Having said all of that, I still don’t see why the Bowl shouldn’t host Ashes Tests in the future – the old venues should not have a permanent monopoly. Riverside should also get another go at Tests, but at the moment I fear that’s wishful thinking!


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