Whitgift loses out on staging Surrey cricket in 2013

A scene from a bygone era? County cricket in Croydon, with the spire of St Peter’s in the background

Croydon may have staged its last county cricket festival, after Whitgift School confirmed to Inside Croydon that they would not be holding any Surrey matches in 2013.

This will be the second year that Surrey County Cricket Club has failed to bring any fixtures to the picturesque venue in South Croydon.

Whitgift first hosted county fixtures in 2000, and by 2011 the school had built up the occasion to hosting crowds of up to 5,000 for four-day county championship games plus televised one-day fixtures popular with broadcasters because of the potential for six-hits into the Nottingham Road.

The Croydon festival proved very popular with cricket fans and Surrey members, who enjoyed the intimacy of the school grounds. “The Oval is a Test ground, and offers all the facilities you’d expect,” one Surrey member told Inside Croydon.

“But even on the best of days, you struggle to attract 5,000 crowds to county games at The Oval, and generate any sort of atmosphere like we get at Whitgift. The members enjoyed it, and the players seemed to, too.”

Now, though, it appears that the cricket festival is the latest strand of Croydon cultural fabric to be cut, going the way of the likes of Allders, the Warehouse Theatre and David Lean Cinema, and the summer music festival and Mela.

The absence of the Croydon cricket festival in 2012 was first described as nothing more than a hiatus, caused because of fixture issues created by the Test programme and the Olympic summer. But at recent forums, county members at The Oval were told of issues with sub-standard facilities “on and off the field” for the players and staff.

There have also been suggestions that the county club disagrees with the headmaster over the exclusive use of the pavilion by the school. Money is also suspected to be an issue, the school having spent £500,000 on its pitches in the past two years.

David Ward, the former Surrey batsman who is the school’s head of cricket, today confirmed that there will be no Whitgift Festival in 2013, saying it was because of on-going work to build a boarding house. The boarding house was expected to be completed in March 2013, well in advance of the cricket season.

Ward said he is hopeful for county cricket to return in 2014. “The school will provide whatever support is necessary,” Ward said today.

“If it happens, it happens,” Ward said of first-class cricket’s return to Croydon, “if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We carry on.

“We’ve worked hard over 12 years, building up the event and developing a reputation and cricket legacy in Croydon. The festival was a great advert for Whitgift School, and we want it to return.”

With changes to the format of the four-day and one-day county programmes – a switch from 40-over to 50-over games, Friday nights for T20 and county championship matches to start on Sundays in 2013 all announced only yesterday – it means that planning for Surrey’s 2014 fixtures won’t begin until mid-summer next year, Ward said.

The 2013 Surrey county fixtures are expected to be published by the end of this month.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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