Despite the best efforts of the Sri Lankan board (SLC) to draw in crowds for the series against Pakistan, including giving free entrance for the first Test, the Pakistani players are not pulling in the spectators.
Just a few hundred people showed up on the first day of play in the Test here on Monday after rains washed out the opening day's proceedings, SLC announced free entry for some of the spaces inside the Sinhalese Sports Club in a bid to draw in the crowds. Unfortunately for them even this move has not worked although the Pakistan Cricket Board enjoyed better results with this ploy during their home series against England and India earlier this season.
"The problem is that except for two or three players there are no glamorous names in both teams at the moment and to make matters worse Sanath Jayasuriya, who is a genuine crowd puller, also didn't score runs in this match," a home board official said. "Historically India draws the biggest crowds followed by Australia and England. Pakistan was a popular team when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were playing. But now the team except for Inzamam-ul-Haq doesn't have any big names. We've no doubt had fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar been playing we would've got better crowds for the one-day series and the first Test." He said that Shoaib remained a popular player in Sri Lanka whom people paid to watch in action.
However, a senior journalist said the local board had also messed up things by holding the first two one-dayers at the Premadasa Stadium and charging as much as 5000 rupees for the grandstand. "With the Sri Lankans not doing well in recent times why would people pay this amount to come and watch them," he asked.
The Sri Lankans are now looking forward to the tour by India and South Africa later this year and a triangular one-day series involving both teams to attract big crowds once again. Perhaps the extreme humid and hot conditions have also played their part in the keeping away the crowds as at times the weather can get suffocating.
But while the Sri Lankan board might not be earning from gate money receipts but they are well off thanks to a long-time lucrative sponsorship deals including US$50 million for the sale of television rights until 2008. Which is why the nine players who have been given central contracts by the board get paid a top monthly salary of 300,000 rupees (US$2800) besides the senior ones like Jayasuriya and Muralitharan also get paid match fees according to seniority basis, with the highest slab being approximately 600,000 rupees (US$5600) per match.