India in Pakistan, 2005-06 January 9, 2006

PCB offers freebies to lure crowds

The recent series with England saw crowds of this magnitude © Getty Images
A few things have changed in Pakistan since India toured last: the national coach, Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi. The PCB will hope, however, that one more feature which dominated the last contest - that of the pitifully sparse crowds that pockmarked Test match venues in March and April 2004 - will also undergo a transformation.

India's euphoric 2-1 series triumph two years ago was accompanied bizarrely by near-vacant stadiums in Multan, Lahore and Rawalpindi. At the time, the trend sparked debate about dwindling Test match attendances in Pakistan and how it can be combated. The PCB responded by making a large percentage of the entire seating in stadiums for Test matches absolutely free, a policy that paid dividends against England and one set to continue against India.

Pakistan's series win against England, for the first time since 1996, attracted decent-sized crowds for Test matches. Multan and Lahore, where Pakistan won, averaged between nine and ten thousand spectators daily - by recent standards almost a stampede - while Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad was packed to a capacity of nearly 15,000 every day. The PCB made 70% of all tickets free and they are set to continue the policy through the India series.

A PCB official told Cricinfo: "Approximately 50% of all seating is free in this series. Upon showing their ID cards people can pick up tickets for Tests from various outlets. The response from people has been really good so far. Already about 10,000 tickets have been distributed."

He added: "The last time India visited several factors worked against it. One, holding the ODIs before the Tests backfired. People were exhausted by the time the Tests came along. Also, the weather conditions didn't help - it was very hot then and I think people would still prefer to come when it is cooler rather than the other way round. Finally security was so tight at the time and so much had been made out of it that a lot of people were just put off by coming to grounds."

Suhael Ahmed, a ticket marketer handling the PCB's online ticket sales for the series, is also expecting bigger crowds this time round for the Tests. He said: "In only three days we have sold 2000 tickets online and a significant number are for the Lahore Test so in that sense sales have been fantastic. There should be better crowds this time primarily because of the tickets and also because of the timing of the series. The first Test starts at the end of a holiday season for schools but coincides with Eid and a weekend so there should be more people present at the ground than last time."

Pricing for the remaining enclosures remain the same as in the England series, ranging from a daily Rs 50 ticket (Rs 200 for all five days) to Rs 100 (Rs 400 for all five days). Prices for the ODIs, however, have been increased, in anticipation no doubt of even greater demand than against England. If crowds do turn up, then we might even have a more memorable series on our hands than two years ago.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo