Ashes in Wales for the first time

It was the prospect of Welsh cricket suffering a slow death or doing something about its future that inspired a Cardiff cricket club to lobby to get the Ashes to the Welsh capital.

And it resulted in a coup for the club, the city and for Wales.

The Australia verses England match (July 8-12) will be the first time an Ashes Test has been held at a new venue for more than 100 years. It's also the first time in cricket history that an Ashes Test match between England and Australia will be played anywhere other than those two countries.

Glamorgan Cricket Club Chairman Paul Russell is the man responsible for bringing the Ashes to the SWALEC Stadium - known as Sophia Gardens - in Cardiff.

"We needed a spark," Russell told a Visit Britain media lunch in Sydney. "...and that came in 2004."

At the time, he said the Test matches were allocated by "men in grey suits", referring we gather to the England and Wales Cricket Board (a name many cricket fans have laughed at since the games were held in England).

His club is one of the 18 major county clubs which make up the English and Welsh national cricket structure, representing the historic county of Glamorgan, known in Welsh as Morgannwg.

The club plays most of its home games at the SWALEC Stadium in Sophia Gardens, which is located on the banks of the River Taff in Cardiff.

The ground has hosted seven one-day matches; the first match was a 1999 World Cup clash between Australia and New Zealand.

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The most famous match Australia has played there was in 2005 when they lost to easybeats Bangladesh by five wickets in a massive upset.

Sports writers remember the match for Andrew Symonds turning up drunk beforehand and almost being sent home from the tour in disgrace.

Russell said they contacted the Board and told it not having the Ashes held in Wales was anti-competitive and should be changed.

"The Ashes is the biggest cricket event in the world...and the fifth most recognised sporting event in the world," he said.

Among a whole raft of reasons why it couldn't be held in Cardiff, he was told the city didn't have a stadium big enough.

But part of his pitch was that Cardiff was the fastest growing capital city in Europe in financial terms.

So the club went ahead and did a major redevelopment of the SWALEC stadium, tripling its seating capacity from 5,500 to 16,000. Russell described it as now being a "magnificent new stadium".

"They found it difficult to say no," Russell said.

So now the opening Test of the Ashes will be played there.

"...At Cardiff it will be such an occasion that if you're there you'll never forget it," Russell said.

"So come and see us in Wales," adding it was a country of valleys, shorelines, lakes and more castles per square metre than anywhere else in Europe.

IF YOU GO:

Visit: glamorgancricket.com; www.visitwales.com and www.visitbritain.com.au

AAP

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