Decision to make fifth-day Test tickets free vindicated as cricket faces up to the reality of its fans

·3-min read
 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

As thousands file into Trent Bridge on this sunny Tuesday morning for what promises to be a thrilling final day, Nottinghamshire’s inspired, intelligent decision to throw the doors open free of charge was vindicated.

Nottinghamshire announced the decision in the evening session yesterday and a few hours later were scrambling for extra stewards and volunteers as demand exceeded expectation; shortly after 10pm, they confirmed that all 17,063 tickets had been snapped up (how many of those would show up is another matter).

The call tapped into the cricketing zeitgeist on two fronts; the first is that cricket’s wider affordability and accessibility are under the microscope. At a time when the cost of living is spiralling out of control, ticket prices were a major contributing factor to empty seats at Lord’s last week, which embarrassed the MCC; early indications are that they have learnt from a lesson, but let’s see how they price things next year.

Nottinghamshire have learnt from the past, as Lord’s needs to. In 2018, India went into the final day, a Wednesday, requiring just one English wicket to win. Until the morning, Notts were sticking to a plan of charging £10 for entry. “We’ve slept on the day five pricing policy and, frankly, we got it wrong,” they admitted, while performing a u-turn. It was fortunate, given it took just 17 deliveries for India to wrap up the win.

This week, they may reflect that tickets for Monday were too expensive, but the first three days were sold out. Their decision to forego a few pounds of ticket sales today has benefits beyond simple kudos, too. With a long day in store, the many food and drink outlets should see business flow. And, crucially, they will have the data of thousands of new fans who can be contacted about tickets for all future cricket at Trent Bridge.

The ticket price debate is not exclusive to internationals. The Vitality Blast is having a torrid summer. In the Hundred era, it has been given little chance of thriving, with fixtures packed tightly together in the summer holidays and only having a short on-sale period.

But there are still issues of the counties’ making; 14 matches per team is simply too many, and counties have got greedy with their pricing. Most southern counties want upwards of £30 for a ticket.

The second reason is this nascent England regime have promised to entertain. In their response to conceding 553 in the first innings, they have still looked to win, and are promising to attempt to chase down whatever New Zealand throw at them today (their lead was 238 overnight, with three wickets in hand).

“We will go for anything,” said Stuart Broad. “Whatever comes our way we are going to have a look at”.

It is all a far cry from just 12 months ago, when England batted out for a draw against the same opposition at Lord’s, with the equation a sporting 273 from 75 overs. For a young England side missing its biggest hitters, on a losing streak of three (little did they know that record was soon to become one win in 17), it was a safety-first decision, but it became an emblem of their passive, fearful cricket.

How would that team have responded to the opposition racking up 553? Well, day five probably would not have been a concern for Nottinghamshire. They certainly would not have rollicked along at 4.2 an over, and would have been pretty unlikely to reverse-scoop a batter’s second ball of the day for six, as the liberated Joe Root did yesterday.

Win, lose or draw – and the noises emanating from the dressing room suggest draws are not really their thing – this new England team are intent on entertaining. For Nottinghamshire to give more people the chance to watch them can only be a good thing.

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