Why no bums on seats?

2013-11-13 00:00

IT’S a hallowed piece of turf, stuck in the middle of Durban among a plethora of business offices. It’s a piece of ground that harbours history, folklore and individual brilliance, a place that has a voice of its own, with hundreds of stories to tell.

Kingsmead cricket ground can only tell its stories from history books and photographs on the wall. It also used to tell them through the trees that were planted by batsmen and bowlers who had left their mark on Test matches but that, too, is history, with concrete stands giving the ground a so-called modern feel.

Sadly, there is another story to tell, one that goes against all the memories, accomplishments and spirit of the players who watch over one of world cricket’s most cherished shrines.

These days, a visit to Kingsmead on match day is like walking into an ice-cold fridge, even if the sun is shining.

Players and teams take to the field with cold, barren stands and seats looking down on them. There are more mynah birds in the outfield than spectators, and in the press box, more reporters.

Great batting and bowling is applauded with hollow hand claps that echo around the ground and the memory of the achievement is etched in the minds of only a select few who were privileged enough to see and realise the magnitude and effort involved.

Even the 20-over format of the game has seen numbers dwindle, with a little over 2 000 people attending games when the Dolphins play.

The obvious question is: why are people not attending? Are they spoilt by TV coverage? Is it only worth supporting a winning team, leaving them on the scrap heap when the going is tough?

Even Cricket South Africa has done a survey to get feedback as to what’s going on. International matches are reasonably well-attended, but the provincial scene is quietly forgotten, with people failing to realise that future South African players are moulded here, at a breeding ground that prepares them well.

From the survey, some of the major issues involved scheduling of matches, a lack of big names playing and people saying they were unaware of when matches were played. That could be construed as a lame excuse, as the media — print, electronic and television — give plenty of exposure to what’s happening and when.

Take a look at the Dolphins right now. They are crying out for support, so much so they even offered free entry to spectators wearing Dolphins kit or green and black clothing for yesterday’s all-important play-off against the Titans in the Momentum One Day Cup competition.

They are winning, yet they are deserted.

There are competitions for spectators on match days and a family is selected to meet the man of the match at the end of proceedings.

These initiatives should get most youngsters tugging Dad’s arm to go to the cricket, but it’s not happening.

The price of tickets was not an issue in the survey.

Granted, cricket is a long game and people don’t have hours to spend, but surely a long time span allows for people to pop in during the course of the match to catch at least an hour or so, 12 to 13 overs at least?

When games are played is also tricky. Most folks work all week and want the weekends for family time, with cricket the last thing on their minds. Week matches — if it’s a day-night clash — finish after 10 pm, way too late for school-going youngsters.

Safety in our fair land is also an issue, as people are not keen to drive home late at night; yet people are prepared to make the sacrifice to see Protea players turning out for their franchises. In some ways, it defies logic.

Bread has to go into the toaster to produce toast. So, too, do cricketers have to go through a process to become international stars.

It boils down to a passion for the game. The true fan will make the effort, share the moments and fire up the soul with what has been seen.

Mind you, with elections looming and the latest furore over those schoolboy T-shirts that have supposedly “split communities”, perhaps it’s not far-fetched to say that, yes, politics is playing a part in people not attending cricket matches.

Why? Blame it on the the DA — the Don’t Attend party.

• David Knowles is a sports reporter at The Witness.

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