Pakistan v India, 1st Test, Multan, 3rd day March 30, 2004

Bring on the Milo men

If you were to view the Multan Cricket Stadium from the air, it would most resemble an upturned flying saucer in the middle of farmland, and the view would give you some idea of just how far it is from the bustle of the old city
  shares



Test cricket dying? No bums on seats? Bring in the Milo men © AFP

If you were to view the Multan Cricket Stadium from the air, it would most resemble an upturned flying saucer in the middle of farmland, and the view would give you some idea of just how far it is from the bustle of the old city.

At 11 in the morning, there were more security personnel outside the ground than fans inside. A few kids, some of whom I had seen selling water a day earlier, were begging to be let in to one of the enclosures, only to be turned away by unfriendly, lathi-wielding policemen.

It's perverse that you have people in authority whingeing about the slow death of Test cricket, when the only life-support system - the fans of the future - are treated so shabbily. The Pakistan Cricket Board and the Board of Control for Cricket in India could both learn an awful lot from Cricket Australia, who let large groups of kids - Milo provide the equipment and the sponsorship - play impromptu games of cricket on the outfield with plastic bats, balls and stumps during the lunch break. You can't overestimate how much it would mean to a little fella to be able to have a hit, or bowl, on the same ground as some of his heroes.

Such a scenario wouldn't be possible in Asia when you have capacity crowds, as we did for the recent one-day series. But on days like today, when the stadium is an almost-empty shell of baking concrete and abandoned plastic seats, it's ridiculous that children aren't allowed in for free.

I watch the final half-hour of the morning's play from the Inzamam-ul-Haq Enclosure, which provided whatever little atmosphere there was, along with the Elahi Brother (sic) Enclosure. Before the local hero walked out to bat, the lull was sleep-inducing - a wake would be ten times as entertaining. Most folk were checking out the Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut menus in anticipation of lunch, and they perked up only when Inzamam livened up proceedings with a majestic stroke or two.

To be fair to them, though, pitches like these - purgatory for bowlers - are hardly designed to put bums on seats, even when the occasion is a historic one. But as long as the sponsors keep pumping in the money - more than half the boundary hoardings feature Indian brands like Manikchand gutkha, BSNL and Indian Airlines - why bother with such trivial things?

While the raucous cheers were reserved for Inzamam and Yasir Hameed's strokeplay, there was also some appreciation for the Indians. When Lakshmipathy Balaji, something of a cult figure now because of his perma-smile, made good ground to stop a four, he got a couple of enthusiastic Wahs for his trouble.

When the umpires removed the bails for lunch, everyone made a beeline for the food stalls. Outside, the kids who had been refused entry amused themselves by inexpertly trying to dropkick an empty water bottle. How ironic and sad that in the city of Inzamam, they should be reduced to attempting pallid imitations of Jonny Wilkinson. The Milo men can't get here soon enough.