First Test, Sri Lanka v England, Galle, starts Monday 26 March
• ECB had been assured there would be no such system
• England followers on strict budgets organised petitions
By Vic Marks
Galle may provide one of the most attractive venues for Test cricket in the world, but there are many disenchanted English supporters in the town, their anticipation of the Test series dented by much confusion over the ticketing arrangements.
First they learned of a two-tier system of ticketing, 5,000 rupees (about £25) for visitors, a fraction of that price for locals. This is far more expensive than previous tours. Moreover, when Australia were here in September – with fewer supporters – everyone paid the same. On Saturday England followers, many of whom are on a strict budget, were taken aback and angry. Petitions were begun. Then Upali Dharmadasa, the president of Sri Lankan cricket, was sought out to clarify the situation and he said that everyone, locals and visitors, would have to pay 5,000 rupees to get into the ground.
Either way there may be trouble ahead. In the first instance, if a two-tier system applies, England supporters are likely to feel traduced. The England and Wales Cricket Board had received assurances in the first week of March there would be no such system. They tried something similar in Barbados when England were last in the West Indies. The upshot then was that the locals, understandably, bought tickets, which they sold on to visiting English tourists at a healthy profit, while still undercutting the official price. This caused considerable ill feeling and prompted many vows from visitors never to go to Bridgetown for cricket again.
In the long-term Sri Lankan cricket and their tourist industry will be damaged if a similar situation arises during the next fortnight. Sri Lanka will not seem such an attractive proposition for long-haul travellers, who at least had the consolation of modest entry fees to the matches.
But if Dharmadasa’s interpretation of the situation is correct then the locals would be asked to pay extortionate prices. Therefore only a tiny minority of the local population would turn up to watch their home side, which is the worst of all possible worlds. Interest in Test cricket outside of England is constantly under scrutiny and often feels under threat. If the locals are priced out of the market a Test match becomes seriously diminished.
Moreover, even the TV companies will not be able to disguise the absurdity of a cricket match in Galle if it is to be watched almost exclusively by grumpy Englishmen with scarcely any Sri Lankans in sight. Those TV companies will then reconsider their future bids for Test rights. Then the relevant boards will take notice.
It is hoped there is still time for commonsense to prevail. Then the fort beyond the far sightscreen can remain a wonderful backdrop to proceedings rather than a haven for all those who either cannot afford or who do not consider it value for money to enter the arena below. For it is possible to get an excellent, free view of the cricket from the ramparts.