Some have questioned why Tests are scheduled for the North of England in May. The weather has been used as one argument against doing so, but attendances have earned a few mentions too. Let’s take a look at where Test cricket is played in England and when, and examine the merits of the Test schedule we have at present.
Jonathan Agnew asked why we play Test cricket in the North of England in spring in a recent BBC column. To be fair to Agnew, he isn’t advocating spurning that half of the country altogether, but shuffling Tests about so that northern Tests take place later in the year.
“I don’t understand why Sri Lanka have been sent to Leeds and Durham for these opening two Tests.
“You could say that the cold, grey conditions quite likely in the north of England at this part of the year give the hosts their best chance of winning – but there’s much more to it than that.”
Agnew goes on to argue that such scheduling is not what’s best for Test cricket because it exaggerates England’s home advantage and the matches can therefore sometimes become less of a spectacle.
To answer Agnew’s implicit question and the title of this article, one reason to play in the North of England in spring is because it’s actually a drier time of year, so spectators are less likely to experience rain interruptions.
According to Met Office figures, the average precipitation in Durham is 44.2mm in May and 60.8mm in August (raining on 9.2 days in May and 9.6 days in August).
But does the weather negatively affect the cricket?
The conventional wisdom that it swings more when it’s cloudy shouldn’t really apply. Going by the figures above, it’s not really greyer in the North in spring. Even allowing for heavier rain in the summer months, it’s probably on balance less grey.
It is colder though – more so in the east – and this matters because it means pitches aren’t as dry and a juicy pitch will tend to seam more. You could argue that seaming conditions are as valid as any other, but this is, perhaps, another argument that could easily run to a full length article in its own right.
What Test when?
A related point, voiced recently by MCC President Roger Knight, is that Test cricket is ‘thriving’ in London in May and not elsewhere.
This is to a great extent true. But why?
An obvious reason is that London has a bigger catchment area (or, more accurately, a larger catchment population). A simplistic conclusion might also be that this area is more interested in seeing live Test cricket than others. We’d temper the latter with another point though.
Appointment to view
If you regularly watch Test cricket at Lord’s, there’s a very simple thought process at the start of each year: who’s touring and do you want to see them? If the answer is yes, you then decide which day of the Test you would like to attend.
Every touring side plays a Test at Lord’s, both Tests start on a Thursday and barring unusual circumstances, one will always be the first Test of summer. Across the city, it isn’t much more complicated. The Oval always hosts a Test, it is usually the last of summer and as often as not, it starts on a Thursday. Test attendances at The Oval aren’t quite as reliable as at Lord’s.
Now let’s take a look elsewhere. The following thought process applies to pretty much any of the nation’s other Test venues. Who’s touring this year? Is either side playing a Test at your local ground? If so, in what month and on what day does the match start?
It’s not fiendishly complicated, but with every question you lose a bunch of people. If you want to sell something, you make the transaction as straightforward as possible.
A final thought
We could also get into the cost of hosting a Test match and what northern grounds can charge for tickets versus what grounds in the south-east can charge.
The ECB’s bidding process is not just about money, so there’s more to it than that. Nevertheless, speaking as someone living in ‘the regions’, Test tickets now cost more than we’re really happy to spend. We would hazard a guess that the proportion of people who feel similarly has been growing at a faster rate in the North than in the South-East.