Thursday, Nov 06, 2003
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By Ted Corbett
The ground was introduced by businessmen from the Manchester Stock Exchange who drove there in their fine carriages when the Exchange closed and first staged a Test against Australia in 1884.
In the last 119 years, it has become infamous because rain played such a large part in its history and washed out two complete Tests in 1890 and 1938. The ground's reputation for rain led to the saying: "If you can see the Derbyshire hills from Old Trafford, it will soon be raining; if you cannot see them, it is raining."
That will all come to an end if the plan goes ahead. Lancashire is assessing the option with Manchester City Council and New East Manchester Ltd. A statement from the county said: "We will be working jointly to determine whether such a move would be a viable option for the club. We must decide whether it would be viable not just financially but also in terms of attracting prestigious competitions and international cricket."
It appears that the club's best alternative is a 30,000-seater, purpose-built stadium near the new ground being used by Manchester City. By a coincidence, the present ground is less than a mile from the Manchester United ground known locally as the `Stadium of Dreams.'
Lancashire has been losing money as well as its chances of keeping Test status for some time. It had no Test last summer, the least attractive against Sir Lanka in 2002 and has only one, against the West Indies, next year.
The sale of the ground would give the club the financial stability and a home which would not cost millions of pounds to update in order to keep Test cricket.
It has already tried a number of schemes in the past 30 years to increase its profit margins, including building flats and offices on the land nearby and putting up a hotel within the ground. These have not a great success and a plan to unite with Sale Rugby Union club also fell through.
Lancashire is just the latest in a long line of English county clubs which have tried to move in recent years. Hampshire thought it would make money by going to a new ground outside Southampton but rising costs and delays meant that it has not had sufficient funds to make the move worthwhile.
Yorkshire had to abort a plan to move to a location just off the M1, the country's main motorway, at Wakefield, because the owner of Headingley had a watertight contract which provided for compensation if the club moved.
The Lancashire plan seems to have every chance of being carried out. An insider told me: "This is a serious proposition even if it means losing Test status for several years. The club has a big financial problem but selling its prime location and moving to East Manchester would solve that."
I understand that a scheme to use drop-in pitches at the new ground and retain its Test matches has been considered and that its groundsman Peter Marron, who has a high reputation throughout the game, believes this is a viable proposition.
Many England fans would be sorry to see the end of a Test ground so steeped in tradition. It is not just the rain; it is the sight of Brian Statham running in and bowling with pin-point accuracy, of 5ft 3in Harry Pilling batting alongside 6ft 5in Clive Lloyd, of the team's marvellous one-day record stretching from 1965 and the succession of charismatic overseas players like Lloyd and Farookh Engineer.
There was another shock for English fans planning a winter holiday in the sun when it became clear that the political situation in Sri Lanka might affect the tour which begins later this month.
Police and soldiers are reported to be holding key positions in the capital city of Colombo where England is due to play a Test, two one-day internationals and a warm-up match. "We are keeping an eye on the situation," said an England spokesman.
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