The extraordinary mushrooming of interest in England's quest to regain the Ashes saw cricket turn back the clock by almost 50 years yesterday with only safety limits denying Old Trafford a record attendance for the third Test.
The Manchester ground witnessed scenes unprecedented in the modern era as spectators queued overnight in the hope of securing seats in a fifth-day full house.
Old Trafford officials closed the gates half an hour before the 10.30am start time, after which the five-day attendance was 115,000 - the largest crowd aggregate at Old Trafford since 120,000 watched Richie Benaud bowl the Australians to victory in the fourth Test in 1961.
But with 10,000 people locked outside and perhaps as many again told by police in the city centre not to travel to the ground, that post-war record would have been exceeded had there existed the space to accommodate everyone. Even so, the 78,000 turn-out to watch Ian Botham's heroics during the 1981 Ashes series was dwarfed.
Fifth-day Test tickets are traditionally hard to sell and prices were slashed to £10 for adults and £5 for concessions to stimulate interest. With the possibility of a potentially pivotal result in the series, Lancashire were prepared for around 15,000 spectators. In the event, there was not a vantage point unoccupied after Lancashire sold almost 19,000 tickets yesterday morning, swelling the crowd to 23,000 for the fifth day in a row. The first four were sold out well in advance, months ago in the case of Thursday, Friday and Saturday's tickets.
"I've never seen anything like it," the Lancashire chief executive, Jim Cumbes, said. "I arrived at around 6.15am and had to do a double-take when I saw the length of the queues. Then I learnt that some people had been outside the ground since two in the morning.
"We knew there would be a lot of people wanting to come, especially after the excitement of the last day at Edgbaston. But we were thinking of about 15,000.
"Having to close the gates and turn thousands away is incredible, but the only thing people have been talking about around here lately is the cricket and this match, even though the football season is under way," Cumbes added.
Police said that Manchester city centre was effectively gridlocked as would-be spectators almost doubled the normal rush-hour traffic. Some members of the England side arrived half an hour late for pre-match practice because of the jammed streets.
Some supporters drove for four and a half hours from London only to find every ticket sold, including those being reportedly offered by touts at up to £180 each.
An attempt to provide consolation for the frustrated thousands by setting up a big screen venue in the centre of Manchester was blocked by police.Reuse content