England in Sri Lanka 2011-12 March 25, 2012

Sri Lankan fans could be priced out by ticket hike

Local Sri Lankan cricket fans who want to watch the full duration of the Test against England in Galle will be asked to fork out up to a month's wages after it was confirmed there would be no cheaper tickets available for locals.

Sri Lanka Cricket confirmed it had set the ticket prices at 5000 Sri Lankan rupees ($38) and 7500 Sri Lankan rupees ($57) per day, having seen the demand created by the visiting England fans as a chance to boost their struggling finances. That move has angered England supporters who feel they are being exploited for being loyal followers of their team overseas.

However, it also prices many locals out of the game, as paying even for four days would equate to 20,000 Sri Lankan rupees, which is around four week's pay for a large proportion of the population. Recent Tests in Galle have not been heavily attended by Sri Lankan fans - the game against Australia last year was not sold out despite much lower prices - but rather than trying to encourage more supporters through the gates the board has opted to cash in while it can. Yesterday, a Sri Lanka Cricket official said there would be a 1000 rupee ticket available but that has not materialised.

"We need to develop the game of cricket in Sri Lanka so whenever there is an opportunity and a demand for tickets it is our policy to put prices up," Nishantha Ranatunga, the Sri Lanka secretary, said. "You can see people buying tickets for this price. We will get the best deal. Yes, there is a substantial increase from previous tours and the World Cup but we have seen a lot of Sri Lankans buying tickets at this price."

There is talk of a protest by England fans on the opening day of the Test, suggesting they may decamp to the Dutch Fort which overlooks the ground, although many visiting supporters have arrived with pre-paid tickets bought as part of tour packages.

Andrew Strauss did not want to comment on the ticket prices, but wanted as many England supporters in the ground as possible. "I don't know the Sri Lanka Cricket board's policy on ticket pricing," he said. "But clearly we want to have as many fans as possible in the ground and we know the Barmy Army always travels and supports us wherever we go in the world. The more of them that are in the ground supporting us and watching some good quality Test cricket the better it is for not just for us but also the game as a whole."

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 Sri Lankan million rupees ($5 million) after discussions with the sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage.

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, confirmed they had been paid up to the end of the CB series in Australia. "We got paid last week," he said. "It's something we couldn't control, but the newly elected board made us a promise and they kept to that. We continued playing cricket and the boys were happy with that."

The players might be happier now, but supporters from both sides are unlikely to be having similar feelings.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo