Cricket: Another poor turnout for the `crucifixion'

COUNTY COMMENTARY By Adam Szreter
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The Independent Online
There's a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian when Reg, the leader of the Judaeian People's Front (or was that the People's Front of Judaea,) is interrupted in the middle of a council meeting by news that Brian has been arrested by the Romans and faces imminent crucifixion.

"Right. This calls for immediate discussion," says Reg. "New motion - that there be immediate action - once the vote has been taken..." Reg's bureaucratic train of thought is broken by the hysterical and incredulous Sibling Judith, screaming: "Reg, for God's sake! All you've got to do, is go out of that door now and try to stop the Romans nailing him up. It's happening, Reg - something's actually happening. Can't you understand?"

It doesn't take too much imagination to transpose this little scenario: for Brian read English cricket, for the Romans read the Australians (or just about anyone except the New Zealanders). And for the JPF or PFJ, read ECB (or was that TCCB?) It's happening, folks, something's actually happening. Fortunately for English cricket, unlike Brian, it can be crucified over and over again while endless discussions and interminable votes take place, not to mention working parties.

Whenever England are suffering internationally, the faults inherent in county cricket, and in particular the Championship, become a focus of attention for commentators and administrators alike. But it is not just the effect on the England team that is at issue. When Dennis Compton died, on the opening day of this year's County Championship, among the tributes was one from Don Bennett, the Middlesex coach who was a youngster on the club's books in Compton's day : "We played Surrey in a three-day game in 1950 and 60,000 people came through the turnstiles, mainly to see him."

Attendance figures for the recently-completed round of county matches make alarming reading, despite mitigating circumstances such as the generally poor weather and the FA Cup final on television. At Southampton, where the champions, Leicestershire, completed their first win of the season on Saturday, Hampshire estimated a total of fewer than 2,000 spectators all told over the four days.

At Taunton, where the weather and Bill Athey's unbeaten 138 combined to thwart Somerset, they counted 200 members on the first three days plus 147, 160 and 104 who paid. On Saturday, the County Ground was "like a ghost town," according to a club spokeswoman.

The figures show a distinct upturn at the other six venues but nothing to be proud of. For the first three days at Canterbury there were 1,500, 1,000 and 900, with Kent members accounting for roughly 90 per cent, while on Saturday 700 turned up to witness Glamorgan's first win of the season courtesy of Waqar Younis, Robert Croft and 19-year-old Dean Cosker's slow left-arm.

Oddly enough, the best weather was in Manchester where Lancashire entertained 1,200 to 1,300 on each of the first three days, members again making up about 90 per cent of the total. The figure dropped to 622 for the final day, but the idea of watching Nottinghamshire claim their first Championship victory for 11 months at Lancashire's expense probably did not help. Paul Johnson and another 19-year- old, Ufman Afzaal, put on 160 to guide the visitors home from 63 for 4.

The only other game to last until Saturday was at Chelmsford, where just over 2,000 came for the first and last days and 1,700 for the days in between, with around 150 to 200 each day paying at the turnstiles. The likelihood of a full day's play and an Essex win over Durham - turned in to reality by Peter Such's six for 55 - may have contributed to the relatively healthy final day attendance. But of the figures as a whole, the Essex general manager, Peter Edwards, says: "They're not as important as you would think.

"Of our total income last year, our attendance accounted for about seven or eight per cent. But we still feel a great pressure to attract people in and we do everything in our power to do so. It's not necessarily a financial pressure, but if people don't come and watch the game, it will die."

The other three games all ended a day early. Warwickshire attracted 1,000 and 1,150 on the first two days and 550 on the third, and there was a three-day aggregate of 1,800 at the Oval. But most surprisingly of all, at Lord's, home to the ECB, the MCC, the NCA, and quite possibly the PFJ, too, only an estimated 300 to 400 were there on each day to watch Middlesex beat last season's runners-up, Derbyshire. In fairness to headquarters, however, discussions were undoubtedly taking place, votes being taken, and motions being passed, so who would have had time to watch any cricket?

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