हिन्दीಕನ್ನಡമലയാളംதமிழ்తెలుగు

Will the crowds turn up to watch?

Published: Friday, April 9, 2004, 18:33 [IST]
 
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Lahore:India's first major cricket tour of Pakistan in almost 15 years has followed such a near-perfect script that fans are losing interest in it.

Even though the cricket has been fascinating, with both the One-day and the Test series going down to the wire, Pakistanis have largely remained cool to what is considered the ultimate rivaly in the sport.

Pakistan's series-levelling win in the second Test in Lahore on Thursday, which normally would have been celebrated in the streets across the country with gusto, drew almost a deafening silence from fans.

Less than 2,000 paying spectators were at hand to cheer the home side's nine-wicket triumph that levelled the series 1-1 and set up a enthralling decider at Rawalpindi from Tuesday.

Most would expect the Rawalpindi cricket stadium, home of fiery fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, to be bursting at the seams at the prospect of another battle royale between two unrelenting rivals.

But the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is worried one more Test match may be played out before empty galleries.

"If the poor response from fans in the first two Tests at Multan and Lahore is any indication, I fear Rawalpindi will be no different," said PCB spokesman Sami-ul-Hasan.

"I will be surprised if half the seats are taken."

The PCB blames India's insistence on playing the crowd-pulling One-day series before the Test matches for the diminishing interest in the tour.

"If the Tests had been played first, they would have attracted full houses like the One-dayers did," said PCB chief executive Ramiz Raja.

"But the Indians were adamant, and we had no choice but to give in because the important thing was that the tour took place."

As in most parts of the subcontinent, Pakistanis prefer the shorter version of the game, a worrying sign for those who believe Test cricket is the real battle.

But that is only part of the problem. Various other reasons are being touted for the lacklustre response to the India Tests: from stifling security and hot weather to the growing perception among the masses that this is a "friendship tour" in more senses than one.

"When Pakistan led 2-1 in the One-dayers, my neighbourhood shopkeeper told me that India will draw level and win the decider," said respected Lahore journalist Sohail Ali.

"That's exactly what happened. He, like many others, believes the series has been fixed, not by bookmakers, but by the respective Governments which regard the tour as an integral part of peace moves between the two countries.

"Add the fact that people are not allowed to bring food and water into the stadium because of the tight security and the prevailing hot weather, I am not surprised the stands are empty.

"They can bear the discomfort for one day, but not for five days of a Test match, even if it is against India."

The gripping cricket played by both sides on the tour so far has almost been relegated to the background. The decisive final Test at Rawalpindi promises to be another epic battle of attrition.

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