The new era of England cricket could get off to a rocky start this week, and the sport’s lawmakers are already blaming the Royal Family.
Marylebone Cricket Club faces the daunting prospect of 20,000 empty seats for this week’s Test match between England and New Zealand at Lord’s.
The Home of Cricket will host the highly-anticipated season opener in London, marking the first challenge for newly-appointed coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes.
England has only won one of their last 17 Test matches, reeling at the bottom of the ICC World Test Championship standings, and the series opener against New Zealand marks the statrt of a new era for the struggling team.
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The Lord’s Test takes place during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, meaning Thursday and Friday are national holidays.
But a report from The Telegraph claims that 20,000 tickets were still unclaimed as of Monday, three days out from the opening delivery.
Extravagant ticket prices have come under heavy criticism this week, with the cheapest seats on the Lord’s website priced at AU$193, while others exceed $280.
Chris Millard, managing director of the Barmy Army, told The Telegraph: “We do not get tickets at Lord’s as a group, but speaking to a lot of people who go every year they have been put off due to price and the cost of living crisis.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted: “Lord’s not being full this week is embarrassing for the game. Try & blame the Jubilee if they want but I guarantee if tickets weren’t £100 – £160 it would be jam packed! Why are they so expensive?
“How about working out a way to get the tickets remaining at Lord’s to kids with a parent for £40 to make sure it is full … it’s the school holidays and lots of kids will be around to go to the Test match?”
Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq posted: “So disappointing & yet again after all the empty words over the last year the game is too expensive to experience. Seriously and quickly need to find a way to reduce ticket prices across the game so more people can come and enjoy it.”
In a statement, the MCC blamed the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee for the low attendance numbers, claiming the ticket pricing “represents good value to watch top-class international cricket at one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues”.
“MCC has undertaken significant reorganisation of its ticket pricing for international matches in recent years, recognising the exceptional demand for tickets that Test matches at Lord’s are expected to generate,” the statement read.
“With The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee double bank holiday weekend also taking place, we have seen a reduction in our usual expected attendance numbers.
“However, sales remain strong for the opening two days of the match and across our other international fixtures this year, with our India ODI being sold out.”
England veteran Stuart Broad, who is expected to return to the Test starting XI this week, was adamant an entertaining brand of cricket would attract fans.
“From the outside, when you see Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes’ mindset come together, it’s pretty exciting,” he said.
“To attract the fans, we have to build on that style of cricket and have a style that people want to watch. Trent Bridge has sold out for the first three days, so there is still that support for the team. From the players’ point of view, we have to make that commitment that we want to be exciting and draw people through the gates.
“I suppose it’s comparative with Twickenham, Wembley – there’s a market value. There’s a lot going on this weekend (so it’s) a strange one to judge: the Queen’s Jubilee, a bank holiday – there’s a lot of competition for entertainment in London. I’m sure the prices will have to adjust to the cost of living and if stadiums get emptier, people will have to adjust.”
The first Test between England and New Zealand gets underway on Thursday evening, with the first ball scheduled for 8pm AEST.