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Page last updated at 19:07 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 20:07 UK

ECB defends timing of early Tests

The umpires walk out with their umbrellas as the rain falls in Durham
The weather washed out the whole of day two in Durham

England and Wales Cricket Board chief David Collier says broadcasting deals meant there was no choice but to play the West Indies so early in the year.

The first Test against West Indies at Lord's drew disappointing crowds, while day two of the second Test at Chester-le-Street in Durham was washed out.

"We had broadcasting contracts in place," said Collier.

"And I think it would have been wrong not to have Tests prior to us playing in an Ashes series."

The first Test against the West Indies, which started on a Wednesday, was the earliest ever start to an international series in England.

But Collier insisted the low crowds and weather delays have been a price worth paying for the chance to get some genuine match practice ahead of the Ashes.

"I think people would have questioned why are we giving Australians an advantage when we have played no Test match cricket, no four-day cricket immediately prior to the Ashes," he said.

"We believe Test cricket is very much the pinnacle. We have said that, we're on record as saying that, we will continue to say that.

"We believe very, very strongly that an Ashes summer is a major summer for us and I think we would have been criticised had we not had any preparation for the England team.

"From a playing point of view we desperately wanted a Test match or two Test matches, which is the minimum for an official ICC (International Cricket Council) Test series.

"I think from a cricket point of view it is important we play Test match cricket. From a cricketing point of view it was the right thing to do."

BBC Sport's Oliver Brett

Former England star Geoffrey Boycott said the decision to hold a Test in Durham in May was asking for trouble.

"Why are you having Test matches in the very north of England at this time of year?" said Boycott.

"You've got to be wrong in your head. Everyone in the country knows it's warmer down south. The fans haven't come because it's too cold to sit.

"Administrators don't care, they're only interested in television revenue. It's bad for cricket because it doesn't look good."

The ECB is contracted to provide live coverage of seven Tests and 10 one-day internationals each summer for Sky TV. The deal, which was signed last summer, runs until 2013.

But it faces the prospect of more empty seats next summer when it has series provisionally pencilled in against Bangladesh and West Indies and a one-day series against Australia, in addition to the launch of its P20 Twenty20 tournament.

Collier also confirmed talks are advanced to persuade Pakistan to tour next year for a four-Test series, which could be followed by a two-Test series on English soil between Pakistan and Australia.

England are keen to aid Pakistan after the Lahore terrorist attack in March effectively ruled out any possibility of them playing international cricket at home in the foreseeable future.

They have already considered Dubai as an alternative venue, but England may now emerge as Pakistan's new home - for next summer at least.

"We all recognise that Pakistan are having an issue at the moment, in terms of being able to stage home matches," said Collier. "If we can get this sort of (neutral) event, that does help them.

"Now it is up to the grounds to market and fill that venue. One of the benefits of taking the game round the country is that you are engaging with a different local public."

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