King-size heartbreak might be the reason for poor turnout

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King-size heartbreak might be the reason for poor turnout

Add a sorry Test history to the many reasons spectators stay away from Kingsmead Cricket Ground

Andile Ndlovu

As a proud Durbanite, I feel it is always my duty to defend not only my people, but also my home city’s ability and capability to compete with its far more glamorous counterparts. 
Sadly, my ardent defence of the Kingsmead Cricket Ground as a suitable venue for “big-ticket” Test matches (the latest being this past week’s first Test against Australia) lost steam a while ago. 
Commentators on TV and radio (and those all over social media) were at a loss for words in trying to grasp the meagre turnout over the five days. Collectively, those who turned up would have failed to fill up the neighbouring Playhouse Theatre.
It was as heartbreaking as watching Jacques Kallis celebrate his final Test with a century that was witnessed by just one busload of supporters.The reasons are countless, and it has bamboozled administrators at Cricket SA, SA Rugby and the brains trust in the PSL.
We know that Gauteng and the Western Cape have historically been the least-poor provinces in the country, while the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have much higher poverty levels in comparison – these are the provinces that see international cricket in this country.
According to the 2017 Stats SA report, the number of social grants has increased to 17 million, from about three million 18 years ago. A big number of households are dependent on the government – the report found that 36% of Eastern Cape households depended on grants in 2016, and KwaZulu-Natal stood at 26%.
Meanwhile, the Western Cape and Gauteng saw 71% and 70% of households generating income from salaries.
These provinces house the Wanderers, SuperSport Park, Newlands, Kingsmead and St George’s Park. Crowd attendance, and the allocation of matches to these venues, can, to a certain extent, be linked to the disposable income of the city’s population, and therefore the ability of its people to attend sports matches and concerts (just look at the slant towards Cape Town and Johannesburg when Big Concerts has booked the biggest pop acts to tour the country in recent years).But I would throw in another possible reason for the apathy of cricket-watching supporters (I deliberately avoided using “cricket-loving”): the venue has been a source of too much heartbreak.
Between 2008 and 2018 alone, the Proteas have played 12 one-day internationals at Kingsmead, winning 58% of those games. That’s not catastrophic.
But in the nine Test matches that have been played there during the same period, the Proteas have been undone in six of them. Australia hammered us by 175 runs in 2009, in a match in which no South African batsman scored 100, and Phil Hughes scored twin centuries, while Simon Katich scored another.The year before that we beat the Windies by an innings and 100 runs, which should be routine and not counted as a big tour. The English smacked us by an innings and 98 runs in 2009, when we had to witness Ian Bell and Alastair Cook help England to a mammoth 574/9 declared. 
The following year it was India’s turn to make hay in the stifling Durban festive-season heat, winning by 87 runs. Sri Lanka followed the example of their Asian counterparts by beating us in December 2011 by 208 runs, thanks to centuries by Thilan Samaraweera and Kumar Sangakkara.
We broke the spell in 2013 by beating India by 10 wickets in Kallis’s final Test. The following year saw the Boxing Test moved away from Durban and was handed to Port Elizabeth, where the Test against the West Indies was drawn. Meh.
Then the Black Caps came to the country in winter and played a rain-affected draw at Kingsmead, where only one full innings was possible over five days. This past weekend, it was the Australians who reminded us again why Kingsmead was the epitome of our Homeground Disadvantage.Surely the poor attendance at the venue over the past decade (or more) has to be in some part attributable to the equally substandard performances our national team has put in?
It is truly unpatriotic to suggest that people should rather hold onto their hard-earned money instead of going to support their country, but attendances (or their lack) must be linked to entertainment.
The truth is, we are traditionally poor at Kingsmead – a 58% win record in ODIs and a less-than 25% win record in Test matches is unappetising. 
One final interesting quirk worth exploring: Keshav Maharaj is the only member of this past week’s team who comes from the domestic franchise based in Durban, the Dolphins. There was a time when that team spawned Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock and Jonty Rhodes, who greatly and frequently influenced the performances of the national team.
Durbanites saw their own consistently.

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