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Testing time for Test cricket

April 05, 2004 17:40 IST

Could you have imagined India and Pakistan playing a Test series after 15 years to empty stands in Pakistan?

When the first Test in Multan registered a sparse compliment of spectators, the blame was laid on excess security and the distance of the ground from the main city.

On the first morning of the second Test, security personnel outnumbered spectators at the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore.

India and Pakistan probably have more cricket followers than the combined population of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. But despite the PCB slashing ticket rates by more than fifty per cent, fans are uninterested. Even the Bangladesh series managed higher gate collections than the current Test series.

Various theories, like the scheduling of the one-dayers before the Tests, Pakistan's defeat in the one-day series, the stiff security checks and the bizarre match-fixing allegations, have been offered for the abysmal attendance. The last factor though is proving to be one of the main reasons for loss of interest in the series.

A Pakistan Cricket Board official said media speculation about the matches being fixed has put people off to a great extent.

Saeed, an auto rickshaw driver in Lahore, said he had never seen the Pakistan team cave in like they did in the fourth one-dayer in Lahore.

"On any other day the Pakistanis would have chewed the Indians after having taken their top five wickets. I have not seen a single match after that day. This is not my Pakistan team," he said.  

A local television channel in Lahore ran a poll question asking viewers if they thought the series was fixed. A record 78 per cent said that they did not care.

Indeed, the lack of interest in the series is startling. But the Indian and Pakistan cricket Boards will not worry too much about it because income from television rights and sponsorships have filled their coffers.  

Hamied Shaikh, a shopkeeper in Lahore's buzzing Anarkali market, has sworn not to turn on the television he had placed in his shop for the series.

"What's the point of watching when the Pakistani government has already decided to gift the series to the Indians? This is fixing at the highest level," he asserted, without refusing to elaborate.

In fact, there were more people watching the Indian team zip through the roads of Multan under a heavy security blanket.

"Maybe, we should charge the people for watching the Indian road show," joked a PCB official.

Inzamam-ul Haq laughed at a press conference when asked why the crowds are not coming.

"Kya keh sakta hu, ticket kyu nahi bik rahe hai [What can I say? Why are the tickets not selling?" he said.

If Pakistan lose this Test also, and the stands stay empty, Haq will not have too much to laugh about.

Faisal Shariff in Lahore