England's coach, Andy Flower, has appealed to the British public to get involved in the forthcoming one-day series despite the ongoing allegations involving Pakistan's cricketers, after their six-wicket victory in Tuesday's second Twenty20 at Sophia Gardens was marred by one of the poorest attendances ever seen for a home international.
Only 5,821 tickets were sold for second match in three days in Cardiff, which is barely a third of the ground's 15,000 capacity. The midweek scheduling didn't help the ticket sales, nor did the autumnal weather, but the sense of anticlimax was exacerbated by Pakistan's collapse to 89 all out, their lowest total in 40 Twenty20 internationals.
"It was a strange atmosphere," admitted Flower. "That must be the smallest crowd I've ever been involved in with an England team in England [sic]. It's a real pity. Perhaps the weather didn't help on Tuesday but no-one wants our national side to play in front of such a small crowd. And the fact that we dominated so completely meant that it wasn't a great contest for the people who did come either. It was great for us to dominate but not a brilliant match for the crowd."
This time last year, England were being thrashed 6-1 in a dreadfully received seven-match one-day series that took place only days after the completion of the Ashes, and though England are the side in the ascendancy on this occasion, their opponents are in such disarray that a similarly one-sided conclusion to the summer would appear to be on the cards.
"There's inevitably a bit of a gloomy atmosphere at the moment, and with the sullying of cricket's name and reputation that's understandable," said Flower. "It's a pity because we are playing some outstanding cricket. We have got on with our jobs in a professional manner. We have won two games comfortably and for the skills of the bowlers in particular to be overshadowed so completely is sad.
"It's fair to say it was the same in the Test series too," he added. "Not just at Lord's but throughout there were some great performances, like Trott and Broad's partnership and some others, but they have been overshadowed by controversy. I'm sure the players have some strong views on the issues the game is facing but they have gone about their work and put those issues to the back of their minds, and that's a tribute to them."
In the aftermath of Tuesday's second match, England's Twenty20 captain Paul Collingwood reminded the ECB that he and his fellow international cricketers had been warning of the dangers of overkill for the past ten years. It was a stance that Flower appeared to back in a thinly veiled criticism of the scheduling.
"To have two Twenty20 games at the same venue at this stage of the season might have been an error," he said. "It's something the ECB might want to look at. None of us want to see small crowds but we don't know what the attendances will be like at the one-dayers yet. Hopefully the English cricketing public will come and support their team. We're playing some good cricket and I think our ground-fielding and bowling in the Twenty20 matches provided really good entertainment. We all hope people turn up in great numbers for the last five matches."
He denied, however, that his players were just longing for the summer to come to an end. "The guys are really looking forward to the one-day series," he said. "They love playing for England and they are highly motivated and proud to represent their country. All the other stuff that is being alleged I think has highlighted our guys' appreciation of representing their country in a fair and proud manner. Sometimes you can forget simple things like that and I think this business has emphasised to them how proud they are and the responsibilities they face."
Pakistan, meanwhile, face a struggle to raise their game despite the furore that is surrounding them, but Flower insisted that that was not his team's concern. "That's a situation that we can't do too much about at the moment," he said. "The bottom line for spectators is that they want to be entertained and whatever problems Pakistan have, they will play attacking cricket as we will too. So I'm very hopeful some good cricket will be played in the 50-over games."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.