Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove gets his wish – but not in the manner he would ever have expected
Today, the stadium was hosting the first Test match to be played anywhere in the world since the pandemic took a stranglehold on world sport in mid-March.
Originally, England were due to host the West Indies in a three-Test series last month at The Oval, Edgbaston and Lord’s.
Due to covid-19, the first will now be held at The Ageas Bowl with the other two taking place at the Emirates Old Trafford stadium in Manchester. The venues were chosen as they both have on-site Hilton hotels, making it easier to create a bio-secure environment.
Pakistan are also in England ahead of a three-Test series that was scheduled for Lord’s, Trent Bridge and Old Trafford. On Monday, Hampshire found out that The Ageas Bowl was hosting two of the Tests and Old Trafford the other.
In the space of two months, therefore, The Ageas Bowl will have doubled the amount of Test matches it has staged.
In addition, Hampshire’s ground will also host all three England v Ireland ODIs at the end of this month and beginning of August.
It could also stage England v Australia games in September if the Aussies’ one-day tour is confirmed.
Opened in 2001, The Ageas Bowl was created with international cricket firmly to the forefront. It has always been Bransgrove’s dream to see the venue hosting one of the great events of world sport - an Ashes Test.
It rankles with him that the ground his personal investment helped fund is the only one of nine Test venues in the country NOT to have staged an Ashes match.
Cardiff’s Swalec Stadium has only ever hosted three Tests, but two were Ashes encounters in 2009 and 2015.
Durham’s Riverside were also awarded an Ashes match in 2013 - a decade on from that ground’s debut Test against Zimbabwe.
Two years ago the ECB delivered a further snub when they revealed the grounds chosen to stage an Ashes Test in 2023 were Edgbaston, Headingley, The Oval, Lord's and Old Trafford.
That means Bransgrove must now wait until 2027 at the earliest to see his dream realised.
He will be just a few years off his 80th birthday by then, but will continue to put pressure on the ECB to make it happen.
Last year The Ageas Bowl staged five World Cup ties, including England’s eight-wicket win over the West Indies and two India games.
Bransgrove felt they provided further evidence of the stadium’s ability to host the biggest games possible.
‘The ground is very much unique,’ he said after the World Cup.
'You must remember that it is the only cricket ground in the country built for purpose.
'When we have the semi-permanent stands in place it becomes a complete bowl.
'The sound is cacophonous, stays within and is amplified.
'We have had a lot of praise about the ground.
'India head coach Ravi Shastri felt it was the best cricket facility on the UK circuit.
'These are great words coming from someone in his position.
'All the feedback we get from administrators and players is always very positive indeed.'
The Ageas Bowl has staged at least one international game every year since 2003, apart from 2008 (when it hosted the T20 Finals Day for the first and only time).
In addition to three Tests, the ground has staged 28 ODIs and six T20 internationals.
But Bransgrove still wants to see more top-class cricket at the venue.
Speaking in 2016, he said: ‘I've always felt that we've been more than unlucky in the allocation of international cricket in the past.
‘This (the Ageas Bowl) is an amazing venue and everyone who visits here says so.’
Last year, following the World Cup and Shastri’s encouraging words, he added: 'We will keep on using all this positivity to put pressure on the English Cricket Board to use us for more occasions.
'So far we don't seem to have done enough yet to persuade the central administration to provide us with the number of fixtures, particularly Test matches we feel we warrant.
'We will continue to work very hard on that.
'It is clearly difficult to break into a market that has been dominated by a small group of grounds for so long.
'We definitely feel that we have the credentials and deserve more than we are getting at the moment.
'That is going to be my primary focus in the next year or two.’
Bransgrove found out in 2018 that the Ageas Bowl had not been awarded any Tests in the five-year period covering 2020-2024 (though covid-19 has changed that this year). Lord’s were given 10, The Oval five, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and Old Trafford four and Headingley three.
In the same five-year period, Hampshire were awarded six T20s - two this year against Pakistan and Australia - and a single ODI.
Even Bristol, a relative newcomer to hosting regular England games, was scheduled to host five ODIs - one a year - from 2020-2024 inclusive.
Hampshire first bid for an Ashes Test in 2009, and their disappointment was compounded by the fact that Glamorgan’s Swalec Stadium in Cardiff was chosen to host the first Test.
Bransgrove believed that decision was politically influenced, saying ‘The ‘W’ in ECB is silent but powerful’.
That was a reference to the fact that the ECB’s full title is actually The England and Wales Cricket Board.
Back in September 2011, after finding out The Ageas Bowl had failed to land an Ashes Test in 2013 or 2015, Bransgrove declared: ‘I am deeply shocked.’
Two years ago, after Hampshire had again been overlooked for an Ashes Test in 2023, the chairman remained adamant: ‘I don’t intend to give up.
‘Personally I am disappointed and the potential date for an Ashes Test now is well into my dotage but it still remains an ambition and I will keep at it.
‘We will be pulling out all the stops and intend to lead the way.
“To be considered equal to the other grounds we have to be better, because we don’t have the history.
‘It’s a constant audition but if we keep passing it we will get that Ashes Test match.’
Hosting Test matches with no crowds in attendance can hardly be described as major auditions, but The Ageas Bowl’s facilities have helped England out in this never-to-be-forgotten summer of (some) sport.
Perhaps the favour can be returned. Not next year, or the one after even, but in 2027 ...