25 July 2014

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From ashes to glory: Cricket focus


The next six months gives England the chance to sew up supremacy over its oldest sporting rival. V&E explains why this summer’s cricket could be the best ever.

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British sport is in rude health. In fact, it’s positively obscene. The Olympics iced the cake that our rugby team, golfers, tennis players and cyclists have had in the oven for nearly a decade. And this summer, the England cricket team has the chance to deliver a coup de grâce to its oldest adversary.

England and Australia have a long tradition of cricketing rivalry. When cricket’s most recognisable face, W.G Grace, shamed England with a deplorable act of cheating in 1892, it started a backlash that has never been forgotten. The Ashes – and over a hundred years of fierce competition – were born.

Since then, Australians have had the bulk of bragging rights. If you’ve ever strayed into a Gold Coast backpacker bar or South London pub, you’ll know how keen they are to exercise them. But times have changed. It took 28 years for England to win a series in Australia, but since the 2008 Beijing Olympics it has been a procession of British glory. It’s the job of the team that started the resurgence to keep it going. ‘This summer is the pinnacle of our players’ lives,’ Alastair Cook, England cricket captain, told V&E. ‘Winning the series in Australia in 2011 was a remarkable achievement, but if we can’t beat them at home this time, it means nothing.’

Cricket - Alistair Cook - Alastair_Cook_v_SA_2012.jpg

A win in 2013 would mean three consecutive home victories – a feat unsurpassed since Grace’s day. This Ashes series marks the culmination of a sporting resurgence that many a Briton wants to witness. As you can imagine, though, tickets are hard to come by. ‘Last season’s international programme attracted a record aggregate attendance of more than 850,000 spectators,’ said David Collier, ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) chief executive earlier this year. ‘We’d urge all fans to purchase their international tickets early or you’re simply not going to get in.’

Unfortunately that time has come and gone. General admission tickets are sold out. The Kia Oval implemented a ballot system for its showpiece Ashes games. It could have sold out the first four days nearly ten times over.

Hospitality is the only way to guarantee a seat. For corporate clients, it’s the ultimate ticket. ‘I’d give anything for an invite this year,’ says Martin Guilbert, partner at stockbroker Eden Financial. ‘I’ve been trying since last year to buy 10 tickets for our top clients. I’ve never bought hospitality before, but this year I will. It’s the only way to get seats together and I was surprised by the prices. It’s only a couple of hundred pounds over face value – easily what I spend on drinks and food.’

On a business level, cricket gives you more face time than any other sport – up to 10 hours per day, including time for food and drink. An early breakfast is followed by two hours’ play, before a sizeable lunch, more play, afternoon tea, another hour or so of cricket and then close. Or a return to the bar. It’s not the most fast-paced of games, so there’s plenty of time to talk shop. And if you’re spending £400-£800 per person, you want to see some return on the investment. At least you can bet on the cricket being great.

Best for: young groups

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1st investec ashes test
WHEN Weds 10 to Sun 14 July
WHERE Trent Bridge, Nottingham. Box (12-seater) £5,750
When the curtain comes up on the series, don’t expect to spot anyone finishing a crossword in the stands. Trent Bridge hasn’t hosted an Ashes test since 2005 and with a 3,000-seat extension, it’s out to impress. Its central Midlands location – bang in the middle of university country – draws a lively young crowd. Chanting starts up around the time the bar opens and doesn’t stop until a good hour after the close of play. Throw in a post-match pint at the UK’s only Hooters outpost – a five minute walk from the ground – and you’ll score serious points with your younger clients.
Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, Trent Bridge, Nottingham, NG2 6AG. Tel: 0845 415 0628.

Best for: traditionalists and foodies

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2nd investec ashes test
WHEN Thurs 18 to  Mon 22 July
WHERE Lord’s, London. Box (12-seater) SOLD OUT
Lord’s – The Home of Cricket – is bracing itself for a big year. Due to the high demand for tickets, this year the marketing team made the decision to take hospitality sales in house and it is pulling out all the stops. ‘We want guests to feel at home visiting Lord’s and our staff are best placed to do it,’ says Jon Robinson MCC assistant secretary (marketing and catering). It has proved a savvy business decision, receiving more requests for tickets than ever before. The food at Lord’s has a well-earned reputation for quality and this year’s menu from executive chef Tim Harrington will be no exception. We love the idea of tucking into the seafood buffet in the Marylebone Suite after a hot morning’s play (see right, starting from £499pp), and the saddle of Oxfordshire Elkington lamb with duck egg Béarnaise in the Ashes Club (£699pp) sounds enticing.
Lord’s Cricket Ground, London NW8 8QN. Tel: 020 7616 8598.

Best for: top-value entertainment

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3rd investec ashes test
WHEN Thurs 1 to Mon 5 August
WHERE Old Trafford, Manchester. Box (12-seater) £305pp
The Manchester venue held one of the most memorable Test matches on British soil in 2005, with five days of play coming down to the last six balls of the game, only to end in a draw. Since then, it has had a £12m upgrade in the form of The Point conference and hospitality suite. If you can ignore the garish red facade as you walk in, you’ll appreciate one of the best views in UK cricket. The 60m balcony, running the length of the suite, is great for those sunny days. Don’t bank on blue skies, though – even in August Manchester rarely sees a Test match unaffected by the weather.
Lancashire County Cricket Club, Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester, M16 0PX. Tel: 0845 415 0628.

Best for: intimate setting

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4TH investec ashes test
WHEN Fri 9 to  Tue 13 August
WHERE Chester-le-Street, Durham. Box (12-seater) N/A
Chester-le-Street hosts its inaugural Ashes Test this year. The ground is one of the most picturesque in the tournament, set beside Durham Cathedral. Though don’t expect a quiet welcome for the first Test, as 19,000 Geordie fans pitch up to support our boys. Hospitality might not be as slick here as the London outfits, though it comes with the best package prices of all five venues.
Durham County Cricket Club, Co Durham DH3 3QR. Tel: 0845 415 0628.

Best for: five-star entertainment

Cricket - Kia Oval - 1303_Oval_Corinthia_Roof_Terrace.jpg

5TH investec ashes test
WHEN Wed 21 to Sun 25 August
WHERE The Kia Oval, London. Box (12-seater) £6,864
The series-closing Oval Test is as famous for its carnival atmosphere as the quality of the cricket. England’s two career-defining Ashes wins in 2005 and 2011 gave it a reputation as the celebration venue and so the events team here knows how to throw a party. Packages are designed with good times firmly in mind, with this year’s new Corinthian Roof Terrace (£699pp) our number one pick across the 11 packages available. A new balcony has been built atop the OCS Stand, opening up panoramas across Central London to the north and hard-to-beat views of the pitch to the south. The package not only includes lunch, Champagne, complimentary bar and afternoon  tea but a DJ booth that starts pumping out music as the afternoon play begins. The final day has nearly sold out but Wednesday and Thursday are still up for grabs. In contrast, The Oval also has the most traditional package on the market. Its Montpelier Club’s (£899pp) service is allocated on an individual basis per table and guests are treated with the attention you’d expect from a private members’ club. They don’t have to queue to get into the ground and all drinks are delivered to their seats. If it’s VIP clients you’re looking after, this venue will do a good job of making them feel valued.
Surrey County Cricket Club, The Kia Oval, Kennington, London, SE11 5SS. Tel: 0845 415 0628.

Ashes alternatives

...because it's not all about the Aussies.

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In May there are two Tests against a highly competitive New Zealand team, at Lord’s first, then Headingley. The two teams will then embark on a three-match one-day series, a format at which the Kiwis excel. This should prove an excellent warm up for the ICC Champions Trophy, a mini world cup that runs from 6-23 June, with five games each at Cardiff, Edgbaston and The Kia Oval, following the one-day, 50-over format. The top two teams from the group stages advance to the semi-finals, hosted at The Kia Oval and Cardiff, and the finals Edgbaston on Sunday 23 June. Think of this tournament like the cricket World Cup, but with less pressure. With the players more relaxed, you’ll see big scores and huge hits. Last year there were more hundreds scored than during the last two World Cups combined. Value is a big plus. Prices start from £145, £249 and £299 per person at Edgbaston, the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff and The Kia Oval respectively – less than half what you’ll pay for the Ashes. Our top-value pick is a £245 ticket to the Keith Prowse Experience Club at Edgbaston on finals day. For the bells-and-whistles experience, Edgbaston has launched a chef’s table at the 1882 Club. Expect restaurant-quality food and some of the best views in the game from the new £32m stand.

After party

The party doesn’t stop with the Ashes. The Aussie touring party will then play at other grounds. In place of the three-day Test format, your group will be treated to fun and fast-paced one-day international and T20 (20 overs) games.

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The best of the rest (Hospitality available from Keith Prowse)
Thurs 29 Aug 1st T20 international (day/night) Hampshire
Sat 31 Aug 2nd T20 international Chester-le-Street
Tues 3 Sept ODI Scotland v Australia Edinburgh
Fri 6 Sept 1st ODI Headingley
Sun 8 Sept 2nd ODI Old Trafford
Wed 11 Sept 3rd ODI (day/night) Edgbaston
Sat 14 Sept 4th ODI Cardiff
Mon 16 Sept 5th ODI (day/night) Hampshire

England vs New Zealand (Hospitality available from Keith Prowse)
16-20 May Test Match Lord’s
24-28 May Test Match Headingley
Fri 31 May One Day International Lord’s
Sun 2 June One Day International Ageas Bowl
Wed 5 June One Day International Trent Bridge

ICC Champions Trophy Fixtures
 (Hospitality available from Keith Prowse)
Thurs 6 June India v South Africa (day) Cardiff
Fri 7 June West Indies v Pakistan (day) The Kia Oval
Sat 8 June England v Australia (day) Edgbaston
Sun 9 June Sri Lanka v New Zealand (day) Cardiff
Mon 10 June Pakistan v South Africa (day) Edgbaston
Tues 11 June India v West Indies (day) The Kia Oval
Wed 12 June Australia v New Zealand (day) Edgbaston
Thurs 13 June England v Sri Lanka (day/night) The Kia Oval
Fri 14 June West Indies v South Africa (day) Cardiff
Sat 15 June India v Pakistan (day) Edgbaston
Sun 16 June England v New Zealand (day) Cardiff
Mon 17 June Sri Lanka v Australia (day/night) The Kia Oval
Wed 19 June Semi-final A1 v B2 (day) The Kia Oval
Thurs 20 June Semi-final A2 v B1 (day) Cardiff
Sun 23 June Final (day) Edgbaston

Broad appeal?

Test match hospitality might delight the fanatics, but will Twenty20 keep our novice keen?

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The fanatic

England vs South Africa,
Lord’s, third Test, fourth day

The invitation It’s a special thing to be invited to spend a day in a box at Lord’s – you just can’t turn it down. This is the kind of invitation you fit your diary around, regardless of your sporting allegiances.
The game England’s rear-guard fight back on the fourth day will go down in legend. Two tail-order batsmen put the top South African bowlers to the sword to set up one of the finest fifth days’ play in history. Almost. Alas, we lost the next day.
The hospitality The food at Lord’s is the best of any sports hospitality I’ve been to. You can tell real thought goes into the menu. For our game, there were South African touches throughout and the chefs took into account the hot weather – they made extra salads as people weren’t interested in the hot selection.
The overall verdict You often make friends at sporting events and it’s even easier in a hospitality box – good food, good sport and a lively atmosphere. It was telling, in this instance, that when the venue staff came round to ask us if we wanted to buy the box for the next day’s play at a quarter of the price (the final day of the five days of play for a Test is usually cheaper), at least half a dozen people put their hand in their pocket.
Lord’s, tel: 020 7616 8598 .

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The novice

England vs South Africa, Edgbaston, T20

The invitation Attending a cricket match wasn’t something that I ever imagined doing. Yet here at V&E we’re always keen to try something new, so off I went to Birmingham (it takes less than two hours on the train and is totally doable from London, even for an evening fixture) for a Keith Prowse-hosted T20 match.
The game There’s no doubt it was an exciting match and certainly a great game to watch as a first-timer. Up-and-coming star Jos Buttler helped England round off their summer in style with a 28-run win over South Africa to draw the T20 series 1-1.
The hospitality We were hosted in Edgbaston’s impressive new Jaguar Suite, a large space on the third tier of the new Pavilion Stand. Groups can enjoy the fast-paced action from their seats on the private balcony, behind the bowler’s arm, or from within the suite itself. Pre-match, we were welcomed with a Champagne reception, followed by a three-course dinner (with commanding views of the open kitchen) and guest speaker Alec Stewart, a former England captain.
The overall verdict The weather didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits (the rain reduced the match to 11 overs) and everyone was welcoming – there was plenty of time over dinner to get to grips with the game’s rules. At only three hours long, T20 is a much more accessible game of cricket – there were cheerleaders and Mexican waves – and it was far from the stuffy and silent atmosphere that I’d expected. I’d definitely go again.
Keith Prowse, tel: 0845 415 0628.

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This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events spring 2013.

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