Tunbridge Wells will not be staging a Twenty20 cricket match next summer, bringing disappointment to thousands of fans across the borough.
The decision by Kent County Cricket Club (KCCC) not to hold the customary contest at the town’s Nevill Ground comes after the national governing body chose to concentrate all the reduced-format county matches in one midsummer block.
This means that unlike in previous years, the Tunbridge Wells Cricket Festival will only consist of a County Championship match – against arch rivals Sussex across the town border on May 26-29 – without the more popular quickfire limited-overs version to accompany it.
The match, which has previously been played over three hours on a Friday evening, has been a sell-out for many years with up to 5,000 cricket supporters in attendance.
These contests, and the previous Sunday 40-over fixtures – allow Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club to earn significant income from bar takings, as well as local businesses to benefit from the proceeds of their sponsorship deals.
By contrast, the four-day version of the game, which in recent times has begun on a Sunday, attracts relatively insignificant crowds – the traditional ‘one man and his dog’.
The local ‘cricket week’ forms part of the dwindling ‘outgrounds’ programme which sees matches staged away from the county ‘headquarters’ – in Kent’s case the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury.
The use of outgrounds has been in decline for three decades – the latest casualty being Essex’s Colchester ground, which will have no games from next season.
In Kent, Maidstone’s Mote Park staged a week of professional matches for 140 years until it was removed from the list in 2005.
There has, however, been a revival at Beckenham Cricket Club, where the county side returned to play in 2003 after a 50-year hiatus – and it has seemingly leapfrogged the Nevill to become Kent’s ‘second ground’.
The County Ground in South-East London was refurbished in 2014-15 and now has 2,000 seats. It will stage the only T20 fixture outside Canterbury next season.
KCCC issued a statement in response to widespread dismay on social media at the Nevill decision, saying: “We understand the disappointment of supporters in Tunbridge Wells and hope they are able to attend the County Championship match v Sussex played over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend on May 26-29.”
“For those wanting to see the NatWest T20 Blast, we hope you can attend the home fixtures scheduled at evenings and weekends at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence. “We will continue to work with Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club and the landowners Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to bring top-class cricket to The Nevill.”
The reasoning behind the England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision to bunch all T20 matches into one block is ‘to ensure the best weather and allow families to attend during the summer holidays’.
Playing the tournament over 40 days instead of 70, as in recent summers, means that ‘counties can attract overseas stars for the duration of the group stage and coaches can focus on specific skills for each format’.
The governing body said the only potential slot in the calendar for holding a Championship game alongside Twenty20 was for the first T20 game against Essex on July 9 – both of which will be held at Beckenham next year.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council held a meeting with KCCC in November, and Cllr Jane March said: “We are pleased to be hosting County Championship cricket in Tunbridge Wells next year with Kent taking on Sussex from 24 May, although it is disappointing that because of the changes to the ECB schedule we won’t have a T20 fixture here.”