So farewell then to Chester-le-Street, England’s fortress, more secure against overseas marauders than nearby Hadrian’s Wall. The game against Sri Lanka was England’s sixth Test match here and the suggestion is that it may have been their last. This is not absolutely certain so for now it’s more “au revoir” than “goodbye”. But the simple, sad fact is that they can no longer afford Test cricket in the north-east.
England have won all of their six Tests at Durham’s home, three of them by an innings. No venue on the globe has provided its home side with such unbroken success.
There are a variety of reasons for that. Except for the Ashes Test of 2013 all the matches have taken place early in the season in archetypal “English” conditions and several of them have been against the weaker sides on the planet.
First there was Zimbabwe in 2003, then Bangladesh two years later; then West Indies, the 21st century version, who travelled far from home with no greater enthusiasm than Dennis Bergkamp.
Early in the summer there has often been a little sap in the pitch, some nibble for the seamers rather than excessive pace for the fast men. But most importantly, on the ground where there has always been the warmest of welcomes for visitors, it has often been freezing out in the middle or in the stands. Tourists from nearer the equator seldom feel comfortable in such temperatures.
It was here that Zimbabwe were 48 for eight in their first innings in 2003; that the Bangladesh players, stooges as England completed their preparations for an Ashes summer, were unable to feel the tips of their fingers in 2005; that Chris Gayle would trumpet the joys of T20 cricket as opposed to the five-day format – even though he was West Indies’ captain at the time. This was a predictable prelude to England winning by an innings and 83 runs before the leaves were out on the trees that surround Lumley Castle, which overlooks the ground and once terrified Shane Watson.
Most memorably it was here that England secured their Ashes victory in 2013 with Stuart Broad on the rampage and Tim (“what’s he doing bowling?” groans Shane Warne) Bresnan grabbing critical wickets when Australia were threatening to knock off the runs.
Then they were rewarded with a string of Test matches (with the exception of that Ashes fixture) that Richard Branson would struggle to sell.
It seemed like a good idea at the time to expand the number of Test venues but that is how entrepreneurs operate. Currently in England (and Wales) there are too many grounds geared for international cricket and several of them are losing money as a consequence.