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Grounds for celebration at Old Trafford

Posted in Domestic Cricket

More than a week has passed since Lancashire won the LV= County Championship – but the smiles are still just as broad at Old Trafford.

Every member of staff, from head coach Peter Moores through to the lady serving sandwiches, was beaming as journalists congregated in The Point today.

And with good reason. Not only is the county still basking in the glory of a first outright championship triumph since 1934 – sealed in such memorable fashion at Taunton last Thursday – but yesterday brought news that Test cricket will return to Old Trafford in 2013.

The announcement by the ECB of the allocation of major matches until 2016 was likened by Moores to putting Lancashire “back on the map”, and, for all the cheeky suggestions that championship glory would be celebrated for another 77 years by fans starved of success, this latest piece of good news was the real source of long-term joy for a club that have not hosted a Test since 2010.

Hence there were plenty of pearly whites on show as Moores posed alongside director of cricket Mike Watkinson, chief executive Jim Cumbes and chairman Michael Cairns with the championship trophy.

It was fitting that Lancashire’s end-of-season debrief was held in The Point, which seems to represent all the off-field ‘challenges’ (as business people are fond of saying) the club has had to overcome in recent times.

Old Trafford

The Point is testament to where Lancashire have come from - and where they plan to be by the time Test cricket returns in two years

By committing to building what many people have described as a giant pillar-box (Cairns compared some of the criticism it initially received to that directed at the Sydney Opera House when it was first unveiled), Lancashire took a £10million gamble. It was just the start.

The latest addition to the Stretford skyline may have proved a huge success, drawing cricket fans, diners and conference-goers alike over the last two seasons, but it could have easily become Old Trafford’s white (or, perhaps more suitably, red) elephant.

A £32m redevelopment of the whole ground to match The Point’s distinctive design was pivotal to Lancashire’s aim of winning back Test cricket, but not until this summer did they finally win a crippling legal battle that delayed work by more than a year and cost upwards of £1m.

As Cairns said, “we’ve had more court appearances than Ken Dodd has had at the Palladium”.

That Lancashire can laugh about it now says much about how far they have come, but, while Cairns may have been joking when he claimed they “couldn’t even afford an evening paper” at times, he admits finances were so tight that they were a matter of months away from not being able to pay people’s wages.

The thought of what might have happened had any of the above failed is almost too dire for Lancashire – and their hordes of fans – to think about.

Cumbes, who delayed his retirement to oversee the project, perhaps sums it up best when he says, without a hint of exaggeration: “It was make or break.”

Old Trafford

Look no further than the 2005 Ashes Test at Old Trafford to understand what this week's announcement means to people in the area

But make it they did, and the fact that the first Test back at Old Trafford will be during the 2013 Ashes simply makes it all the more special.

To understand what the sport means to people in this part of the country, you need only cast your mind back to the previous time Ashes cricket was played on the ground, in 2005, when queues stretched as far as the eye could see down Talbot Road and thousands of people were locked out.

If you’re ever in any doubt as to how important the past week has been to Lancashire, it is worth recalling that image.

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