As England edge closer to ending their winless run in Test cricket, the crowd sizes at the Ageas Bowl indicate that a victory is much overdue in order to reinvigorate English cricket fans once again.
The lower attendances in Southampton suggest that fans aren’t as attracted to Alastair Cook’s side as they were when they were sitting on top of the world.
Since whitewashing India on their last visit to England in 2011 – which took the Three Lions to number one in the ICC Test Rankings – Cook and co. have slipped from their perch atop the world, and have been surpassed by South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and India themselves in the five-day format.
Poor run of form
England have gone almost a year without winning a Test match, having been demolished 5-0 in the Ashes in Australia last winter, which was followed by a 1-0 home loss to Sri Lanka.
But whilst they were just one wicket shy of winning the opening Test of this summer against the Sri Lankans, they look more assured of winning the third Test against India, which would level the five-match series at 1-1.
But despite the close proximity to an overdue win, crowds haven’t flocked to the Ageas Bowl to witness the best cricketers in the country competing.
Only 4,784 were in attendance as England dominated day four in Hampshire, closing in on victory with India reeling at 112-4 – chasing 445 to win.
It isn’t the first time this summer that England have played Test cricket in front of empty seats. A paltry 2,428 fans turned up to the final day of the second Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley in June.
Those who passed up the opportunity to go missed out on a great day of sporting entertainment, as the tourists won on the penultimate ball of the match.
Aside from the absence of a winning formula, England players have been hindered by the scheduling of their seven five-day matches this summer, resulting in them performing for smaller crowds.
The hosting of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil was a determining factor in limiting attendance for the Sri Lanka series in June, whilst a packed summer of cricket provided a Test match unusually starting on a Sunday.
From that perspective, you have to feel for Hampshire, who – despite the honour of hosting a Test match – missed out on the larger crowds that arguably would have attended on either a Friday or a Saturday.
Nevertheless, there is hope for English cricket. A good performance against India at the Ageas Bowl, where Alastair Cook (95 and 70*) returned to form, could provoke larger crowds in attendance for the final two Tests of the summer at Old Trafford and The Oval
After all, without any away Test series this winter due to the World Cup, the Barmy Army will have to wait until next May to cheer on their team in five-day cricket once again.