England in Sri Lanka 2011-12 March 24, 2012

Barmy Army maddened by ticket hike

Thousands of England fans who have descended upon Galle without tickets ahead of the first Test have been told they must pay prices that are up to ten times higher than those charged to Australian supporters only seven months ago.

England's more budget-conscious supporters assumed that they would be able to buy tickets casually and take advantage of local rates, but they have been told by Sri Lanka Cricket officials that they will be refused access to the grassy banks that offer cheaper vantage points in the stadium.

Representatives of the Barmy Army, the unofficial yet influential England supporters' group, met with representatives of SLC's executive committee, and the Southern Province Cricket Association on Saturday, to be told that "foreigners" would have to remain in designated, high-price areas as SLC adopt a controversial two-tier pricing policy.

Unless the position is reversed, most England fans face ticket costs at LKR 5,000 ($38) as the debt-ridden board takes advantage of the fact they have turned out in such force by attempting to ease its stricken financial position.

Barmy Army Cricket tweeted: "Disappointing meet with the secretary of S province cric ass & SL exec committee member, no access to 'foreigners' on the grass bank."

Giles Wellington, a leading Barmy Army member, followed up: "We're not comfortable with one price for locals and one for foreigners. Feelings are running high in some quarters. We know we are lucky to be here but we don't want to feel we are being ripped off."

A Sri Lanka Cricket official indicated that they have now responded in part to Barmy Army entreaties by adding a further reduced-price area at LKR 1,000 ($8). Asanga Seneviratne, chairman of the tour organising committee, said: "Tickets are priced at LKR 5000 and LKR 1000 and anyone can purchase them. There are no restrictions."

Sri Lanka Cricket has severe financial problems after running up debts of $32.5 million to finance the building of two international stadiums in Hambantota and Pallekele, and to renovate the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, for the World Cup.

Payments owed to players, dating back to the World Cup, were only fully settled less than two weeks ago after the state-owned Bank of Ceylon released 600 million rupees ($5 million) after discussions with the sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage.

Presumably SLC has seen the visit of England, with its guaranteed high number of travelling supporters, as a chance to give the bottom line a much-needed boost. Sri Lanka is still seen as a good-value place to follow England overseas despite the struggling UK economy and its impact on the strength of the pound but the decision has shocked those who follow England on a shoestring.

Those who have bought tickets in the UK before arriving as part of a package have paid up to Rs8,000 ($62), which still compares favourably to ticket prices for England's home Tests and other overseas venues such as the previous Ashes tour.

Many, though, avoid the high-end tickets that package-holiday companies must buy. What has inflamed the mood of these England fans is that they were given no indication of any change of policy in advance. For the previous Test at this ground, when Australia visited last August, tickets were pegged at LKR500 and even then the stadium was not sold out.

A suggestion floated privately by one SLC official that locals could also be expected to pay LKR5000 (US$38) for a single day's ticket seems to have been abandoned. That would have amounted to a weekly wage for a large proportion of the community.

There was a mixed response from the England supporters at Galle as they watched England train. Some shrugged it off as understandable, given SLC's financial predicament. Others told of personal donations to Sri Lanka cricket after the tsunami that devastated the Galle ground eight years ago and suggested that they now felt exploited.

Supporters may now pick and choose to come to just one or two days of the Test, while the ancient Dutch Fort overlooking the ground should prepare to be overtaken by cricket watchers on Monday. At least the ice cream sellers on the ramparts will have a field day.

Edited by David Hopps

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo