The echo of an empty stadium reverberates louder than the cacophony of voices selling tea. Such is the dismal attendance at the first pink ball Day-Night Test match, that it feels like there are more journalists than fans.
Much has been made of the fact that the UAE’s residents largely constitute an expat work-force, hence they are unable to attend games during office hours. With this game failing to draw crowds even on the weekend, critics can be forgiven for coming down hard on what is perceived to be the poor marketing of the series.
The Dubai stadium is a distance away from the city centre and whilst hard-working labourers may be willing to make the sacrifice for a T20 game, they should not be the only target for the longer format. Asian radio stations publicising the series, are listened to by a more traditional audience. Newspapers are read by the expact community but despite tickets being sold online, their higher accessibility at physical locations, would temper the complaints of people having to buy them at the stadium on match day.
When the Australian team toured the UAE, their very effective media department ensured that a few of their players made a surprise visit to Sharjah and played cricket alongside construction workers. The resulting image of globally famous names batting in front of a Mosque, did more to attract fans than all the official press bites for the series.
England attended a garden party at the British Embassy and interacted with British residents living in the UAE, enhancing the goodwill factor and thus ensuring they piqued the interest of more mature fans with buying power.
One option would be for the Pakistani team to interact with the UAE community a bit more. Test captain Misbah UlHaq and Windies Test captain Jason Holder’s appearance at the Burj Khalifa delighted many tourists in Dubai Mall and had the press been invited, would have carried more weight amongst residents.
If organisers were to arrange sponsored transport to and from the stadium, to certain hot spots around town, such as Deira Bus Station, Sonapur Labour Camp, Jebel Ali and The Marina, even the common man might be incited to attend the longer format of the game.
Another talking point in the press room has been the absence of school children. There are several Pakistani and international curriculum schools in the UAE. Were a few players from both teams to visit these schools and gift them pink balls, talk in the playground and around their dinner tables at home, would revive some interest in the tournament.
The Indian Premier League had the financial means to offer mobile phones to stadium attendees. To be fair to the Pakistan Cricket Board, they have to pay a substantial fee for security and logistics and hence appear to have less of a marketing budget available. The non-competitiveness of the West Indies in the just-concluded T20 and One Day International series, also did nothing to help their cause. Also, in this region it is the T20 format that is racing ahead.
Commentator Rameez Raja says “I was hoping more people would attend in the evenings but for Test cricket to thrive, matches must be held in Test-playing nations. The board should work with travel agents to bring in more fans from Pakistan.”
In this case, diverse public events would have helped draw attention to the ongoing tour. Making an appearance at Gitex Technology Week or charity Adopt-A-Camp, attending coaching classes at the ICC Academy, interacting with children at the dolphinarium, are but, just four examples of ongoing events that could have been utilised to help generate more publicity for the series.
Former fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar managed to fill the Abu Dhabi Stadium, as his sponsors promised a large amount of money to participants who could hit a 6 off Akhtar’s ball. Cricket sponsorship in the UAE is not an improbability.
With pace bowler Wahab Riaz telling the press the pink ball was difficult to see at night and got soft early on, it remains to be seen if this innovation will outlast the Test format. For the immediate future though, it is difficult to see Pakistan hosting more than a 2 match Test series in the UAE.