The International Cricket Council (ICC) has today (Wednesday) confirmed that the Ageas Bowl, home of English county club Hampshire, will stage its inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final.

Set to take place from June 18-22, the final between India and New Zealand will be hosted in a bio-secure bubble at the Southampton stadium. The decision, taken by the ICC Board, follows discussions with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) where a range of options were considered to ensure the inaugural final could be staged safely with the potential impact of COVID-19 minimised for all involved.

In selecting the Ageas Bowl, the ICC said it drew on the ECB’s experience of delivering a full summer of bio-safe international cricket in 2020. Lord’s had been earmarked the host the event, but earlier this week the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said Southampton would be the destination owing to the Ageas Bowl’s expertise in hosting bio-secure cricket.

The 15,000-seat Ageas Bowl hosted the return of Test cricket following COVID-19 as England welcomed the West Indies on July 8 last year. The venue hosted the first Test between the two teams, with Manchester’s Emirates Old Trafford staging back-to-back Tests later in the month.

The ICC said the venue provides world-class playing and training facilities, giving both teams the “best possible environment” in which to prepare. The Ageas Bowl, like Emirates Old Trafford, also benefits from having an on-site hotel, significantly reducing the risk around COVID-19 transmission.

The ICC said that should the UK government’s phased easing of COVID-19 lockdown measures in England proceed as planned, a limited number of fans will be allowed into the Ageas Bowl to watch the final. With that in mind, the ICC is accepting applications from fans interested in attending.

Geoff Allardice, ICC general manager of cricket, said: “The ICC World Test Championship final is the pinnacle event in the Test calendar and is intended to be a week-long celebration of the oldest form of the game.

“We are confident that in selecting the Hampshire Bowl, we have given ourselves the best possible chance to successfully deliver the final whilst keeping everyone involved safe and healthy and giving fans the opportunity to watch the two best Test teams in the world go head-to-head for the right to call themselves the ICC World Test champions.  

“I would like to thank the ECB for their guidance and advice to enable us to make this decision, which gives us the best possible opportunity to deliver a safe and successful World Test Championship final.”

Tom Harrison, CEO of the ECB, added: “As the world’s first fully bio-secure cricket venue, it (the Ageas Bowl) has shown itself capable of delivering international matches to the highest of standards, even against the backdrop of a global pandemic. I am sure the finale of the ICC World Test Championship will be a wonderful occasion.”

Both the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford operated as ‘bio-secure venues’ last summer, with health check and sanitisation points having been set up, along with vehicle screen areas, welfare units, perimeter fencing, temporary walling and temporary accreditation points.

The Ageas Bowl also hosted international matches against Pakistan, Ireland and Australia later in the summer. This year it is scheduled to host an England Twenty20 game against Sri Lanka on June 26.

Rod Bransgrove, Hampshire Cricket chairman, said: “I should like to sincerely thank the ICC for this huge demonstration of confidence in our capabilities and the ECB for its significant support of the venue as host of what will be the biggest Test match event ever staged.

“I am sure our immense pride at bringing this fixture to Hampshire will be shared by all our loyal staff, supporters and sponsors as well as our unwavering partners, Eastleigh Borough Council. We will do everything in our power to ensure that this inaugural ICC World Test Championship final is a secure, entertaining and successful event for everyone.”

Image: Dominic Lockyer/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size