One-day internationals returning to Karachi after ten years. A washout denying fans a chance of watching any cricket on Friday. This city prides itself as the most cricket-mad city in the country. Tickets should have been snapped up, right? Wrong.
ESPNcricinfo understands only around 20% of tickets have been sold so far. Anecdotal evidence made it clear that the uptake wasn’t as swift as the PCB might have been hoping. It was made official when they announced ticket holders for the abandoned first ODI could attend either of the two remaining games. Moreover, the same applied to ticket holders for the second ODI; common sense would suggest if either of the games were anywhere near full houses, that would have been impossible to guarantee.
It isn’t that fans in Karachi have fallen out of love with the game, though with demand much higher for the T20s in Lahore despite higher prices, there are suggestions the ODI game might be harder to market in Pakistan despite fans having limited opportunities to see any international cricket.
The series was beset by several obstacles before it got off the ground, which hindered PCB’s advertising campaign. The on-off nature of the series would have put Ross and Rachel – of TV show Friends fame – to shame; it is easy to forget that just over a fortnight ago, the Sri Lankan government said they had received credible information of a terror threat to the Sri Lankan team.
The PCB received a nod from Sri Lanka Cricket only a week before the first ODI, making it a bigger challenge for PCB’s marketing department to put campaigns together for a series that, on paper, hadn’t taken off until that point. Similarly, selling tickets that may have had to be refunded was tricky. It is understood that the provincial government hasn’t assisted with advertising and marketing the series like they did for the Pakistan Super League final and the three T20Is they hosted against West Indies in 2018.
Then there was the squad Sri Lanka actually sent. With ten top players pulling out citing security concerns, Sri Lanka’s squad is, to put it mildly, second string. When the West Indies played three T20Is in Karachi last year, some players chose not to tour, resulting in heavily one-sided games. The prospect of the same occurring during this ODI series cannot be ruled out, and may well have played a part in so many fans choosing to stay away.
The coup de grace was provided by Karachi’s weather. A city that sees very little rain, and almost none at this time of the year, was pounded all week by heavy downpours that might have made Sri Lanka’s players feel they were still at home.
Karachi’s roads are famously unprepared to handle rainwater and facilities at the ground, while decent, were no match for the forces of nature they had to unexpectedly reckon with. With the weather forecast suggesting, accurately after all, that Friday would see yet more rains, there was little incentive for fans to get their tickets, and consequently not many subjected themselves to braving the heavy security and dark skies to turn up on match day.
There are a number of reasons for sluggish ticket sales, but Pakistan needs fans to turn up. Especially if the whole idea of bringing cricket back is to avoid the ugly spectacle of high-quality cricket being played in front of near-empty stands in the UAE, and to give the nation’s cricket-deprived fans an opportunity to watch their team play. Much of what’s happened to suppress demand isn’t the PCB’s fault, but as they will know all too well, it is very much their problem.