Brian Lara has vented his frustration at the lack of support West Indies have received over the past two days of their contest against Australia at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua. In a match that ought to have been the plum draw of the Super Eights - an inaugural fixture at a brand-new venue against the reigning world champions - a pitiful crowd was in attendance.
Despite local suggestions the match had been a sell-out, the 20,000-capacity ground was barely half-full for the first rain-affected day, with perhaps half that many when the sun came out for West Indies' run-chase. "It's very disappointing," Lara said. "You'd back yourself to think that at least every single game that West Indies plays is going to be a full house. We were received very well in Jamaica, where we got a good crowd against Pakistan and Ireland, but I thought I would be able to close my eyes here, and for the rest of the tournament, and just see our people come out and support the World Cup and support West Indies."
The attendance figures don't square with local anticipation of the match. One disgruntled fan suggested that the fault lay with the local organising committee, whose marketing of the game had fallen way short of what was required for such a big occasion. "There's no culture of buying [tickets] online in the Caribbean," he told Cricinfo. "Instead there were queues around the block for the few kiosks at the ground, and everyone assumed the seats would have gone."
Stephen Price, the tournament's commercial director, told Cricinfo 11,100 tickets had been bought in advance for this game, and a further 700 on the morning of the match. He denied that the pricing or the marketing strategy had been at fault for the poor attendance, but added that plans were in place to distribute the spare tickets to local schools and tournament sponsors. They were unlikely, however, to be implemented in time for Thursday's match against New Zealand.
"Centres in each of the territories put tickets on sale at the same time as they went online," Price said. "We also utilised a global network of 50-plus agents. Tickets were easily accessible, and with a significant amount of entry-level prices, starting at US$25, which is the equivalent to a category two ticket in a regular bilateral series. But in some cases, the fans have not attended."
Price said there had been an attempt to change the Caribbean culture into one that buys early instead of leaving everything to the last minute. "Tickets went on sale ten months ago," he said. "For a normal bilateral series, they would go on sale two weeks in advance. But there have been the same number of kiosks as ever. The queues may have been long in the late evening, but in the early morning they were empty. People could have come out at lunchtime, or in their own time. To claim otherwise is just an excuse."
The infrastructure is good, so now it's time for the manpower
The commentator Mark Nicholas was disappointed the match was not a sell-out and said the locals were frustrated by the long queues. "A lot of them gave up and said 'no, I'm not prepared to wait two hours'," he said. "It's been one of the problems confronting spectators. The huge amount of security, that's one thing, the other is the long lines for tickets and long lines for food."
Nicholas said the remoteness of the site - "you can only park a mile away despite huge areas all around" - was a problem when comparing it to the previous venue. "The old ground was in the middle of St John's and it was very popular," he said. "There was a great party feel to the place, but it's going to be very difficult to rekindle that here."
The controversy dampened an occasion that ought to have been a proud moment for West Indies and for Antigua. "It's a very good stadium, it's beautiful and it's a tribute to the man, Sir Vivian Richards," Lara said. "It's been an awesome effort by the Antiguan people getting this ready, and it's going to be wonderful for West Indian cricket moving on. The infrastructure is good, so now it's time for the manpower."
Not everyone was impressed with the positioning of the new ground. Built on a greenfields site 20 minutes outside of St John's, many fans had to walk for several kilometres to reach the entrance, or pay for a shuttle service. An impassioned West Indian supporter told a local TV station that it was the spectator's right to expect to be able to park outside a new and purpose-built ground, while others complained that the spontaneity that had existed at the old Antigua Recreation Ground was missing from the new venue.
But Lara said there would have to be a change of attitudes all around as West Indian cricket gets used to its new era. "When you're talking about the improvement of facilities the spectators also have to adapt," he said. "It's not enough to be able to stay in the same areas or stadiums just because the atmosphere was great. We've had some wonderful times at the ARG, but now we move on to the Sir Viv stadium and it is something to be proud of over the years.
"Some of these stadiums were dilapidated. Georgetown and other grounds have been around for donkey's years. I'm sure people will adjust. I may have been disappointed with the crowd today but I thought the party stand wasn't bad here or in Jamaica. People are going to enjoy it, and I think the cricketers are very happy that we have facilities that are second-to-none. If you go to the MCG or Lord's the facilities are great. It's nice to know we are getting there."