By Charles Randall
1 December 2011
One notable omission from the outground rosta in the LV Championship published this week remains Southgate CC, the north London venue discarded for a third consecutive year by Middlesex. The Walker Ground has been joined on the sidelines for 2012 by Garon Park in Southend, King's School Gloucester and Whitgift School in Croydon.
Whether these grounds are on the scrapheap or just in abeyance is not clear, though Essex seem highly unlikely to return to Garon Park, a sparse 'non-club' club ground that failed to attract the expected crowds. This venue had nothing like the provenance of Southchurch Park, Essex's other Southend venue where the Australians score 721 in a day on their 1948 tour.
Southgate used to attract slightly better crowds than Uxbridge, which is again scheduled to host two four-dayers for Middlesex in 2012. The Walker Ground at Southgate has a classic beauty, with the fine Victorian church Christ Church towering over the oaks as an imposing backdrop, but Middlesex have not played here since early 2009. Uxbridge has its own qualities with distinctive lines of fir trees and a dominant clubhouse, but clearly economic issues continue to threaten the viability of outgrounds.
Middlesex have had to plan around the loss of Lord's to archery for six weeks during the Olympic Games in July and August. Vinny Codrington, the county's chief executive, said that two championship games had to be at the same venue. "It is better for us to play twice at Uxbridge rather than have two set-up costs, and the hire of the facility is less expensive at Uxbridge," he told the CCC.
"I hope Southgate is not off the list because we like going there, but the practicality of the fixture schedule with the Olympics was such that two games had to go Uxbridge. We have a good relationship with them as well and long may it continue. These decisions are made year by year; it depends how the fixture schedule pans out, how the negotiations go with each club and the quality of the wickets. There are a number of intertwined issues."
There was no comment from Southgate CC, though negotiations with Middlesex are done with the Walker Ground Trust, who own the facilities.
Richmond CC and Uxbridge CC have bucked a trend in Twenty20 cricket, as Middlesex have retained them for a game each while most counties are pulling fast-format matches into headquarters. Richmond's capacity is roughly 5,000, which accountants would regard as far too small for a one-off game to maximise gate receipts, so it is gratifying to know that professional cricket is not entirely about money. Codrington said the club had an infrastructure that kept expense down significantly and added: "Richmond has worked very well in terms of cost and taking Twenty20 to a part of London where it is not normally there -- a completely new audience."
Uxbridge host Middlesex in all three formats from July 8 to July 16. And there is an enticing day out in prospect for Wednesday June 27 over in west London -- one could visit the Kew Royal Botannical Gardens and then watch the Middlesex versus Hampshire 20-over game at neighbouring Richmond CC.
Surrey and Kent have no fewer than four LV Championship matches in April, along with Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Glamorgan and Gloucestershire. The April 5 start will be the earliest on record.