Ireland v India, One-off ODI, Belfast June 23, 2007

Where are the spectators?

There were pre-match sales of 3000 for Ireland-India game, but by the start of play numbers were in the hundreds, not thousands



Sachin Tendulkar became Roger Whelan's first ODI victim, but the moment was witnessed by hardly a few hundred people at the ground © Getty Images

One of the few bright moments from a dark World Cup was watching a conga line of Irish fans being led around every stadium they went to by a Leprecon. He made it to Stormont, but the atmosphere was all together different from those heady days in Jamaica and Guyana.

Ireland were carried along in the Caribbean on a wave of euphoria as a disbelieving public back home were caught by the cricket bug. The true test is sustaining that enthusiasm, especially now that leading players are choosing to stay with their counties and others are opting out.

Their first one-day international since returning from the West Indies would give a truer perspective on the game in Ireland. There were pre-match sales of 3000 for the visit of India, but by the start of play numbers were in the hundreds, not thousands. Approaching the ground in the morning there was the expectation of at least a few queues for the car parks and entrances, but there was only a trickle and not stampede.

Slowly a few more began to take their seats - including the Leprecon - but it was a disappointing picture. The weather didn't help as a cold wind blew across the ground leaving jackets and hats the order of the day rather than t-shirts and shorts. However, more than the elements, there was a man-made reason behind the poor turnout.

Across Northern Ireland there were 86 club matches scheduled and, as hard as the Irish Cricket Union (ICU) and Northern Cricket Union (NCU) worked, the one-day internationals were not granted a clear weekend. That removed a large chunk of likely spectators, from the club players themselves down to friends and families.

"To be honest I'm a bit disappointed," said Warren Deutrom, the ICU chief executive, "we did all we could but the NCU committee wouldn't agree to stopping the fixtures." However, after the weeks of fraught negotiation to ensure the matches went ahead at all he was just relived to have some cricket to watch. "All we want is to stage matches. We have the facilities, commitment and enthusiasm."

The crowd, or lack of, was a major blow because nothing would show that there is a strong future ahead more than full houses. When Ireland took on England last year in the ground's first full ODI it was a capacity crowd. There is a feeling that at £35 for adults the tickets are a little on the steep side.

A large number of the fans who did make it down were Indian supporters. They cheered on their side and there was even some chanting as Sourav Ganguly ran in to bowl. Whenever Sachin Tendulkar touched the ball it was a greeted with a mini-cacophony. However, the cheers from the Irish fans when he was bowled belied the few hundred spectators remaining after the rain. One fan even managed to get a drum past security. The ICC are a long way away.

One of the aims of this match had been to tap into the local Indian community and they formed a significant proportion of the support. "I live in Belfast so I don't get to see the Indian team at grounds very much," said Sunil, "so I took the chance to see this match and I'm coming back for one of the South Africa games [during the week]."

But for Irish cricket the most important factor is to entice the locals into the ground. There is clearly huge potential and, ironically, the strong club scene which has hit the attendance is a sign of that. When Niall O'Brien reached his fighting half-century and Trent Johnston briefly cut loose at the end of Ireland's innings the supporters came to life. But still there wasn't a conga in sight.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo.