Newcastle no longer No.1 regional cricket venue

Newcastle will not host a first-class cricket match for the third summer in a row as No.1 Sportsground continues to fall down the pecking order of regional sporting venues in NSW.

Cricket NSW’s strained relationship with Newcastle City Council and No.1’s ageing condition are key factors in the city dropping off the radar since its troubled hosting of a Blues game in 2015.

Cricket Australia issued its summer schedule on Monday, and the venue for four NSW Blues Sheffield Shield games are listed as “TBC”. 

NSW takes one game to a regional area each year but is unlikely to bring a match to Newcastle this season.

Wollongong’s North Dalton Park hosted a Sheffield Shield game against Tasmania in February, and NSW have also played in Coffs Harbour and Wagga Wagga in the past three years. 

Cricket NSW fell out with Newcastle council after off-field problems plagued the Blues’ game against Western Australia in February 2015.

The two parties were at odds over the venue-hire agreement, including who should pay for security, general cleaning and maintenance. The sightscreens did not meet Cricket Australia standards and temporary scaffolding had to be erected.

Cricket NSW boss Andrew Jones said at the time that in future his organisation would allocate “the games where the local council and community are keen to have them”. 

Cricket NSW scheduled a Sydney Sixers Big Bash League trial at No.1 Sportsground in December last year, but it moved the game to Drummoyne Oval after the council refused to waive ground-hire and maintenance fees, understood to be $6000 to $7000.

In contrast, the state body was delighted with how Destination Wollongong and Wollongong City Council embraced – and helped fund – the Blues’ game two months later at the newly upgraded North Dalton Park. 

Jones said on Tuesday that he had not been in contact with Newcastle council since December but “my door is always open”.

He has also proposed a 10,000- to 15,000-seat cricket and Australian rules oval as part of the government’s proposed redevelopment of the Broadmeadow sporting precinct.

He said Cricket NSW was keen to bring Big Bash games to Newcastle but No.1 Sportsground was not an appropriate venue.

Newcastle District Cricket Association chairman Paul Marjoribanks said Newcastle was once the top cricket venue outside Sydney, but smaller regional areas now had better grounds.

“Illawarra has totally renovated the players’ area, they redid the shed, they’ve got cricket lights, they’ve got an electronic scoreboard,” he said. 

“Wagga, Coffs Harbour’s had tons of money spent on it . . . 10, 15 years ago we were probably the premier facility in the country. Matches were generally looked at here before other areas, but we’ve been leapfrogged.”