South Africa v West Indies, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 1st day December 12, 2003

Where have all the spectators gone?

Where have all the spectators gone

Where have all the spectators gone? It's a fair question, as in the past we used to see crowds pouring into the Wanderers. Today we had sunshine and great weather, the usual ingredients of South African cricket. At the World Cup final between Australia and India nine months ago we had all that - and a huge crowd too. But today South Africa are facing West Indies, and the crowds seem to have disappeared.

Naked stands greeted the players as they entered the arena, met by a ripple of applause from what appeared to be fewer than 2000 spectators, squeezed mostly into the shadier parts of the stands. Prices had been slashed, entertained arranged, and the weather perfect ... but still the locals stayed away. Across from the main stand is the Wanderers golf course, which by the look of the playing traffic appeared to supply more entertainment than the cricketers could give.

The open grass banks in front of the players' changing-rooms, once a prime and sought-after area to watch cricket from, looked like a beach on a cold windswept day, with the odd umbrella, and children chasing up and down the embankment. Out on the terraces was a lone English flag: maybe it's cheaper to be in South Africa than to follow the English team in Sri Lanka, or perhaps this hardy supporter just likes open spaces. Below him were three locals with a South African flag, semi-hidden behind an advertising hoarding.

At the toss, a television pundit introduced South Africa's captain Graeme Smith as Graeme Pollock. Maybe it was an omen of things to come. The South Africans were in their nifty new green-trimmed SuperTech outfits, but still there didn't seem to be much interest. Maybe it's because it's a Friday: perhaps the weekend will find the turnstiles spinning, the over rates increasing, and the locals popping out of their little bubbles to support a South African team that is aching to entertain. The West Indians, of course, have always been entertainers, even if they have been knocked out of their stride on a tour in which medical bulletins have outnumbered playing ones.

Meanwhile, up in the press box, it seemed that someone had forgotten to tidy up. The whole Wanderers ground underwent an extensive upgrade prior to the World Cup, but a disbelieving media contingent was greeted by broken window-panes held together by rope, electric cables hanging from desks, and telephone cables taped to the floor.

Rather like the idea of a full stadium, the tradition of collar and tie in the press box on the first day of a Test series is also a thing of the past. The two old-school (or is it old-school-tie?) traditionalists stood out like sore thumbs, while some of the more luridly dressed journos would, a few years ago, have found it very difficult to get into the ground, let alone the media area.

But one welcome old tradition did return to the Wanderers, as the spectators were once again allowed onto the playing area (the pitch excluded, of course) during the lunch interval. Many a game of cricket sprung up, with bats flaying and tennis balls flying, and maybe there was a future international out there. Let's hope they tell their friends, and the crowds swell.

Keith Lane is the manager of Wisden Cricinfo in South Africa.