Grounds for divorce
Bob Willis asks whether Test cricket can have a profitable relationship at the Riverside and Cardiff.
Last Updated: 12/05/09 2:50pm
The Riverside is a beautifully-presented ground and one that continues to evolve as it gets to grips with staging international matches.
I have no axe to grind with the facilities or pitch ahead of this week's second Test between England and the West Indies, but it does concern me that ticket sales at the ground have once again been disappointing.
Durham Chief Executive David Harkness admits that fewer tickets have been sold than was hoped for and although Lord's was far from packed out for the first Test, I do feel this shows that the ECB is directing its finances in the wrong direction.
We already have six very good, established Test match grounds located in highly-populated areas and I believe we should concentrate on turning those into the super stadia they should be rather than develop newer grounds that we'll struggle to fill.
We are constantly told that the North-East is sports mad but the sad truth is that Test matches haven't sold out at Chester-le-Street.
While trying to market a Test match in May is no doubt a tough job, I believe we should take the game to where the centres of population are. For that reason I believe that going to Cardiff later this summer is a complete nonsense, as is going to the Rose Bowl in 2011.
Turning to the Test itself, I must admit that I was surprised to see Ryan Sidebottom included in England's squad so soon after undergoing surgery on his Achilles tendon.
Geoff Miller says the Nottinghamshire seamer is bowing pain-free but I have my doubts as to whether Sidebottom will ever be fit enough to play a series of Test matches again.
I sincerely hope I am wrong but I just got the impression last winter that his body was telling him he'd been through quite a lot and that the stress of bowling was taking its toll.
It's not as though this is Ryan's first injury; he's had trouble with his side and hamstrings in the past and as with all maturing bowlers who have got a lot of miles on the clock, the strain increasingly takes its toll.
By including him in the squad the selectors have given themselves the option of playing four frontline seamers but I think the chances of Sidebottom displacing Tim Bresnan from the side are extremely unlikely.
After all, the Yorkshire all-rounder bowled only seven overs at Lord's - hardly enough for a decision to be made on his future - and he fully deserves another chance.
I would have simply added another batsman to the XI that won at Lord's and, as has been done, left Monty Panesar out as there is no way you can justify playing two spinners at the Riverside.
The selectors clearly feel that the next best batsman available to them is Ian Bell; they told him to go away and get runs after a poor return in the West Indies and he has done that, against Somerset at least.
Owais Shah has fallen by the wayside and Michael Vaughan wasn't scoring heavily before he hurt his knee, so if England are going to play the extra batsman then Bell is the man - at least until Andrew Flintoff returns.
What the selectors are effectively saying is that Stuart Broad is not a Test match number seven - and you'd have to agree with that against a side like Australia.
England may well get away with it at Chester-le-Street against a dejected-looking West Indies side but I don't think England can afford for Broad to go in that high when they are five-down in the Ashes series.
Before then, I'll be watching with interest to see if the International Cricket Council's cricket committee is able shed any light on the feasibility of day-night Tests as they meet this week.
I'm happy enough for the concept to go ahead if it's what the public wants and it helps keep Test cricket at the pinnacle of the game.
However, Test cricket will become a different game because of the diverse conditions the players will be asked to compete in.
In many countries I'd expect heavy dew to affect the condition of the ball and I'm sure that would be to the disadvantage of the fielding side.
On the bright side, playing under lights would transform play at grounds where bad light is a major problem such as Faisalabad - so there is plenty to discuss.