Cricket: The fan searching for a happy memory

Alex Hayes finds the carnival has yet to set a successful party mood
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The Independent Online
WHAT DO Hugh Grant's latest cinematographic offering, Notting Hill, and the Cricket World Cup have in common? Answer: they both forgot about the carnival. England '99 might be well on its way but, according to some of those who have crossed the globe to follow the tournament, the fun is sorely lacking. For them the Carnival of Cricket is proving to be more of a circus.

The experience of Manhar Shah is not untypical. An avid Kenya supporter, he decided to make the long journey from Mombasa with two of his friends to experience, at first hand, the joys of a World Cup.

So far his dream trip has not quite worked out as he hoped. From the outset, the 49-year-old has faced little but problems. "Tickets went on sale in April last year," he explained. "The only way to get hold of any was to apply by phone at the cricket ticket office, but it was difficult to get through because there were only a few lines open and, as you can imagine, phoning from Kenya is expensive."

Now that Shah has arrived in England, things have hardly improved. "I think the programming hasn't been very good," he said. "Teams like India carry enormous support but played their first match at Hove. Why have the game at a ground with a capacity of 6,500?"

Why indeed? Would the Football Association hold a 2006 World Cup match at Leyton Orient? "The big grounds like Lord's, Edgbaston and Old Trafford should be getting the matches," Shah continued. "The South African and Pakistani fans have struggled to see their teams because there is no ticket availability. The grounds just can't cope with the demand."

And high ticket demand means heavy touting. "The only way for many to get to a game is to buy tickets on the black market," Shah said. "I know one man who paid pounds 900 for six tickets. I have seen touts at every ground so far and these guys don't just have tickets for the game on the day, they have tickets for every upcoming match."

Even for those fortunate enough to purchase their tickets at face value, the overall cost of following their team can be astronomical. This is an expensive business. Aside from the airfare there is the accommodation, tickets for the games and general living expenses. "England is an expensive country for a start," Shah pointed out. "I am lucky that I am staying with friends while in London but when you travel to a ground you have to buy tube and train tickets [pounds 4 and pounds 16 respectively to Canterbury for Tuesday's game against England], which are always incredibly expensive. Add the cost of your match ticket [pounds 16] and pounds 15 for food and drink, and you are pounds 50 down after one game."

Perhaps Shah's biggest disappointment is the approach of the organisers. "There is a definite lack of help for most foreign fans," he said. "I was here in 1966 for the football World Cup and there were boards everywhere telling you the way to Wembley and flagging the event. This year, those who follow cricket closely will be aware of things. I wonder, though, whether anybody else actually knows that there is a world competition going on. It's almost as if there was a private tournament in progress.

"Let's face it, the biggest story at the moment is Manchester United and football - even for most Kenyans. Who wants to talk about cricket at this time of year? Holding the tournament in May is ludicrous. Where is the problem in having it in July? The weather was horrible at Canterbury on Tuesday. It was very cold and there was no proper hot food available."

According to this fan, then, the ECB's party is not the joyous occasion it should have been. "I actually think the 1975 tournament was better organised," concluded Shah.