Indian money might be Worcestershire's saviour.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Worcestershire last played at New Road. Rather a lot has passed over it, too.
In fact it's been 285 days since New Road last staged a game of cricket. Some of us feared we might never enjoy the spectacle again, so there is more significance than normal in today's game between Worcestershire and Warwickshire at the ground.
Yes, it's only a pre-season practice match, but it has more than symbolic relevance. For a start, it will show whether the crumbling infrastructure at New Road has coped with another winter. More importantly, in the eyes of the club, it will provide some indication how the pitch will play.
But most of all, it will provide a boost to morale. Though the mood of members and officials alike remains vehemently against moving from New Road, there have been some dark moments over the past ten months. Not since the Second World War has cricket been absent from New Road for so long and a further delay would have added to concerns over the long-term viability of the ground.
Whether New Road will be fully fit for cricket today is another matter entirely.
There was standing water on the outfield as recently as Sunday and the whole square was under water only two weeks ago.
Neither Kidderminster, nor Ombersley, are ready for cricket, however, while Worcestershire are anxious to test the conditions ahead of more serious encounters.
"The game probably does come a day too early," the club's chief executive, Mark Newton, admitted.
"It's not going to be perfect and it is still damp here.
"The drainage ditches are full and the water table remains high. There's just nowhere for the water to go. If we have any more rain at all, then we could have a problem but if it's dry, we should be OK.
"But this has been the aim for some time: to get cricket played at New Road.
The financial recovery is going to plan, with membership numbers on a par with last year and all the major sponsors sticking with us.
"Our only concern is the wicket. The signs are encouraging - the practice area is playing much better than last year - but we just don't know how the pitch will play."
In the longer term, concerns remain about how much more cricket we'll enjoy at New Road. Though many deny it, the water now appears a more constant threat than ever. The ground has flooded four times since last June, recently after just a couple of days of heavy rain and the chances of business partners investing in the redevelopment look slim.
To make matters worse, the club has no chance of moving. With the land worth next to nothing, there is no capital available to buy a new ground. Despite the admirable efforts of club officials, the team and the groundstaff, Worcestershire's plight remains very serious indeed.
But perhaps the first shoots of a solution are peeping through. These are early days, but the burgeoning Indian cricket scene might just prove the unlikely savour of this most English of clubs.
Indian teams are eager to build links with English counties in order to develop a vehicle to broadcast cricket - almost certainly Twenty20 cricket - all year round. Worcestershire have already held "tentative" talks with officials at Mumbai about the possibilities of a partnership.
Bearing in mind the sums bandied around in connection with the Indian Premier League, then such a deal could bring in the funds that Worcestershire require so dearly.
"We have held tentative talks with Mumbai about a twinning arrangement," Newton said. "The idea of twinning states and counties is exciting and one way that we could progress.
"If the Indian Premier League is sustainable - and I think we have to wait and see how the first one goes before we make a decision - then it opens up all sort of exciting possibilities. There could be lots of positives for Worcestershire. We have to see if the IPL drives television subscriptions. If it does, then lots of things might be viable but, as things stand, we can only budget within our means.
"It was probably about three years ago that we first talked to Mumbai. For various reasons, it fizzled out but I'm sure the IPL will open up new franchises. There could be some interesting developments in the next couple of months."
Such issues can wait. Today should be a cause for celebration enough. That the club, after incurring losses of over pounds 1 million last summer, are even in a position to prepare for another season, is an achievement. That they are able to do so at one of the most charming grounds in the world is a bonus. Long may it last.
This has been the aim for some time: to get cricket played at New Road. The financial recovery is going to plan.
Mark Newton, Worcestershire chief executive
The scene at New Road last July, with the ground an ugly mixture of grass, mud and water. Play is due to resume this morning, after 285 days without cricket Picture, DAVID DAVIES/PRESS ASSOCIATION
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2008|
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