x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

All to play for as Test cricket strives for night audience

Pakistan's series with Sri Lanka under lights was apt for UAE's expatriate crowd and fans.

Day-night cricket can be extremely popular with UAE’s expatriate population. Randi Sokoloff / The National
Day-night cricket can be extremely popular with UAE’s expatriate population. Randi Sokoloff / The National

Contrary to popular wisdom, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) does not mind playing its home series in the UAE. It is costlier logistically to arrange matches here, of course, but as one senior official noted recently, it also means greater revenue.

Dubai-based sponsors, for example, have nearly doubled what the board would get back home for a title sponsorship.

But it is not just sponsors. For Twenty20 internationals and 50-over games, in fact, the PCB has collected up to $1 million (Dh3.67m) on gate receipts alone, which is unthinkable in Pakistan, where ticket prices must remain reasonably low.

The total financial impact of playing away from home is not only offset, it might be beneficial.

It thus begins to make sense why the PCB was keen on playing a day-night Test with Sri Lanka, possibly in Dubai, in December.

Crowds for Pakistan’s Tests in the UAE have generally been abysmal. Occasionally, Friday matches will draw crowds and sometimes the prospect of an impending Pakistan win – as was the case against England here in 2012 – does, too.

Generally, they are no great improvements on Test crowds you might see, at least in Pakistan’s bigger centres.

Evening events could generate appreciably higher gate revenues, especially over four or five nights.

Though it was a different time and country – and arguably a different game altogether – Kerry Packer’s experience of day-night Test cricket is still telling. Days began with thin crowds, before the numbers eventually grew as work ended and the day progressed.

In venues such as the UAE, Sri Lanka and even certain areas in India, there is nothing lost by trying to lure more fans.

When Mumbai and Delhi played a day-night Ranji Trophy final in Gwalior in 1997, Sanjay Manjrekar found himself thrilled to be playing before a large crowd in a game that few would ordinarily have attended.

Pakistan has played some fine Test cricket here since 2010, most notably in that series against England.

For a few of those days, the crowds were passable, even with the regular presence of the Barmy Army. But mostly the series was experienced on TV.

How much more electric might the experience of watching Pakistan defend 145 against England in Abu Dhabi have been had there been 10,000 on hand, because it was happening at 8pm and not during work hours?

More electric and more profitable? Given how cash-strapped some boards are, it makes a great deal of sense.