With the hype surrounding this year’s Ashes double-header between England and Australia already building you could be forgiven for forgetting there is more to cricket. But before we jump aboard the emotional roller-coaster which will surely accompany ten back-to-back Ashes Tests there is the small matter of the ICC Champions Trophy to consider.
Second only to the Cricket World Cup in terms of prestige, the Champions Trophy features the top-eight one-day international sides in the world. They are split into two groups of four with the top two in each group progressing to the semi-finals.
The tournament will be held at three venues: The Oval in South London, Edgbaston in Birmingham and, in a significant coup for Welsh cricket, Cardiff’s SWALEC Stadium. The SWALEC will host five games over the course of the tournament, starting with world champions India against South Africa on June 6 and including England v New Zealand on June 16 and a semi-final on June 20. Holders Australia will also play two warm-up games in Cardiff ahead of the tournament, against West Indies on June 1 and India on June 4.
Given rugby’s status as the Welsh national sport and the recent footballing success of Cardiff and Swansea, those involved with cricket in Wales know it is important to make the most of this three-week window when the eyes of the world will be on the SWALEC.
Former Glamorgan and England cricketer Robert Croft, now a coach at the county side, believes having some of the best cricketers in the world on display in Cardiff will be a major boost for the sport in Wales. He said: “The ICC Champions Trophy fixtures in Cardiff are very exciting for everyone here at the Glamorgan and in Wales. It’s a great opportunity for us in Wales. It’s a great opportunity for some of the players, spectators and coaches and particularly for youngsters.
“The opportunity to come and see the best players in the world in Cardiff is the stuff of dreams. If you had told me when I first started playing for Glamorgan that we would have the likes of MS Dhoni, Chris Gayle and AB De Villiers playing here I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s a great opportunity to bring your kids to see these greats of the game on your doorstep.”
Peter Hybart, chief executive of Cricket Wales, which overseas the recreational side of the game, agreed the tournament will be a great opportunity to get more young people involved in cricket. He said: “That shop window is so important. I think it will help clubs in their recruiting of youngsters. If you turn the clock back to 2005 and that wonderful Ashes series there’s a link there to more youngsters getting involved in the game.”
After Cardiff hosted the first Test of the 2009 Ashes series Glamorgan reported engagement with more than 65,000 children and young people in Wales.
Andrew Hignell, Glamorgan archivist and first team scorer, also drew parallels with the 1999 Rugby World Cup, where Wales was the principal host nation. He said: “I know that led to a resurgence in Welsh rugby and maybe the likes of Sam Warburton and the current generation of very good, young Welsh rugby players first got interested because of that boost from the 1999 World Cup. And does that mean in 12, 13, 14 years time there’s going to be another golden generation coming through at Glamorgan? That would be very exciting if it were to happen.”
Robert Croft added: “Hopefully there will be kids out there that will come and see their first taste of cricket, and they will be inspired to play the game like I was when I first used to watch the game. We want young people in Wales to see these players and maybe a couple of them will go on to play for Glamorgan themselves and maybe play on the international stage as well.”
Glamorgan have struggled in recent years, both on the pitch and financially, and Alan Hamer, the club’s chief executive, knows the benefits of hosting a major tournament. The Champions Trophy is expected to generate a seven-figure sum for Glamorgan. Because the ICC hires the stadium for the tournament, which does not happen for other international matches, the club itself does not keep gate receipts. But this also means it does not have to pay operational costs while continuing to keep profit from the bars.
Mr Hamer said: “The club cannot solely rely on Glamorgan membership and gate receipts to pay the bills and this is where international cricket plays an important role. Hosting international cricket is extremely important to our finances, but it also plays an important role in raising the profile of the game in Wales.”
With an estimated global audience of more than 100 million people expected to watch the first match on television the tournament is also a showcase for Wales as a nation. Tickets for the tournament have been selling well – the India v South Africa game has already sold out – and final preparations are being put in place at the SWALEC.
Mr Hamer added: “We’ve earned the right to stage this event on the back of how we’ve staged international cricket over the past five years. We’ve been preparing for the Champions Trophy for over a year and everything is on track to deliver a high-quality tournament.”
Sometimes seen as an unnecessary duplication of the Cricket World Cup, the Champions Trophy is in some ways a superior tournament. It features only the top-eight ranked one-day teams in the world, so it is both shorter than the protracted World Cup and free of uneven contests in the early stages.
This year’s tournament will be the seventh Champions Trophy since its inception in 1998, but it will also be the last. From 2017 the new ICC World Test Championship will take its place in the cricketing calendar. But Cardiff will remain a venue for top-level international cricket. The SWALEC will host an ODI between England and Australia on September 14 and the stadium has been awarded its second Ashes Test for 2015.