International cricket’s rapid expansion in the last 50 years, particularly over the last two decades, has created the need for more stadiums of international stature.
Since the first officially credited Test match was played at Melbourne in March 1877, a further 120 grounds have hosted Tests, 80 of them after 1970. An additional 92 have hosted one-day internationals from 1971, while around 60 more have staged Twenty20 internationals since 2005.
Many criteria can be used to categorize cricket venues. These vary from capacity to physical size, location, ease of access, history, atmosphere, and ambience. Facilities for players, spectators, broadcasters, and hospitality companies, viewing quality, and playing conditions also need to be assessed. Each stadium will have its own unique mix of these elements.
One common factor is that, in order to gain or retain the opportunity to host major international matches, venues have to find ways to increase their capacities and improve facilities. This can be achieved by redeveloping existing ones or building afresh.
As if to underline India’s growing dominance of cricket, the stadium in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, was knocked down and rebuilt in 2017, thereby increasing its spectator capacity from 54,000 to 132,000. Now named the Narendra Modi Stadium, this makes it the largest cricket stadium in the world, surpassing the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which has 95,000 seats, plus 5,000 standing spaces.
The growth in T20 cricket, especially in India, has been one factor driving this desire for increased capacity. At 66,000, Eden Gardens in Kolkata, previously offered the largest capacity in India. It was built in 1864 and hosted India’s first ever Test match in 1934 against England, providing it with a special place in India’s cricketing history. Prior to the 1987 World Cup, the stadium’s capacity was expanded to 100,000 but was reduced in 2011 to meet international standards.
Eden Gardens has long been notorious for its feverish, noisy, crowds and hostile comments toward visiting overseas players. Despite this reputation, it is a venue that international cricketers have regarded as a rite of passage to play at, in front of a packed house.
There will be other grounds that fit this bill, Lord’s, in northwest London, being a certainty. Classed as the “home of cricket,” its capacity was expanded to 31,100 by recent rebuilding of stands opposite the Victorian pavilion.
On the south side of London, substantial redevelopment of The Oval, the first ground to host a Test in England in 1880, has lifted its capacity to 27,500. Further expansion is planned.
Another eight stadiums in England and Wales compete to host international matches. All have had to make significant investment in upgrading facilities. Failure to provide ones which are acceptable means loss of status and income.
One example is Trent Bridge, Nottingham, a venue with a rich history. Despite rebuilding of stands, it is hampered by the facilities in its pavilion, built in 1886, which has not been upgraded. As a result, coupled with its lowish capacity of 17,500, it lost out in staging prestigious matches against Australia in 2019 and 2023.
Another venue which lost out on hosting Ashes matches in the same years was the Aegas Bowl at Southampton. This is a relatively new stadium, opened in 2001, built to replace older in-town venues. It was awarded its first Test in 2011. Subsequent additions of a hotel, golf course, and nursery ground represent the new face of cricket stadia, built on sites offering room for planned expansion.
Historic Australian venues have faced similar issues. The main casualty was Perth’s Waca stadium, which did not have multi-use potential. Renowned for its lightning fast, rock hard, pitches, but unloved, largely uncovered, concrete stands and plastic seats, which served to exaggerate the fierce heat, it has been supplanted. Although it is being redeveloped, with cricket still to be played there, major matches since 2018 are now played at the new 61,000-capacity Perth stadium across the Swan River on a previously unconstrained site.
Other Test grounds in Australia have moved with the times rather than be replaced. Since completion of redevelopment in 2014, the beautifully set Adelaide Oval is now surrounded by imposing grandstands but has retained historic features such as the Hill standing area and heritage scoreboard. It has also kept its true oval shape, which makes the hitting of straight sixes an unusual occurrence.
At Sydney, although the infamous Hill has gone, the iconic green copper-topped pavilions have been retained. After major redevelopment in 2014, they are overshadowed now by concrete structures with steel seating terraces up to five levels.
One venue regarded as a special place by many cricket lovers is Newlands, in Cape Town, South Africa, which has Table Mountain as a backdrop but also, somewhat incongruously, a brewery. Newlands has undergone various developments since 1990 but its latest 2021-22 redevelopment reflects a common issue for grounds of its type. Used for only 35 days of the year, it was financially unsustainable. A new mixed-use development aims to produce year-round revenues.
In cricket’s changing geo-politics, the UAE has become an important strategic location. Modern stadiums in Dubai, with capacity up to 30,000 (Sharjah, 20,000), and Oman provided outlets for the Indian Premier League and the T20 World Cup during the coronavirus pandemic. Their status also allows India and Pakistan to play each other on neutral territory. What is remarkable is that Sharjah has hosted more ODIs (244) and the Dubai International Cricket Stadium more T20 internationals (77) than any other stadium.
Cricket’s economics have created a duality among international venues. Old, historic grounds of uneven construction have been forced to redevelop or fall by the wayside. At the same time, purpose-built, enclosed, stadiums have emerged of a homogeneous, standardized format. Both are needed to host cricket’s three main formats amid varying demand levels and playing conditions in different countries.
Cricket traditionalists, however, are likely to have a distinct preference for those venues which have managed to weave new buildings and facilities into older, historic, ones. In their book, preservation of the integrity and cultural heritage of these grounds is paramount.