FOR more than two months, a vast temporary stand has sat on the riverside of what used to be called Riverside cricket ground.
Last week, half of it was taken down.
It was a wise move to minimise the embarrassing number of empty seats at the televised Twenty20 international between England and South Africa. Still there was an uncomfortably large number.
Durham could have taken down the entire stand, and still fitted everyone in. The last time international cricket came to Chester-le-Street, for an early July one-day international, it was an unmitigated success.
The week leading up to it felt like a permanent deluge yet miraculously play started on time, and a full crowd watched England overpower Australia.
On Friday Durham predicted a crowd of about 10,000 – “a little bit less than we would have thought,” chief executive David Harker admitted.
But even with some of the summer’s best weekend weather and a bonus game between England women and West Indies, only 8,829 watched the world’s top-ranked Twenty20 team beat the world champions.
With competition to host England internationals so fierce, such setbacks could be ruinous.
Counties are pushing one another to continually improve international venues. Plans have been in place for a permanent stand to replace the temporary seats for some time, just waiting for the finance.
Their slap on the wrist from the ECB on Thursday showed Durham paid more than they ought to in wages last season. The money has to come from somewhere and county cricket cannot provide.
It is not that the North East public has no appetite for international cricket. Durham sold 10,000 tickets for their 2013 Ashes Test before the date was set.
The first four days are officially sold out, although Durham must wait to see if the temporary stands will be back or the permanent structure always planned for the game can be built before releasing those tickets. That the Ashes, ODI and Twenty20 tickets went on sale at the same time is another theory for Saturday’s reduced crowed. Maybe they should have lowered the £35 ticket price.
With or without the temporary seats brought in for internationals, Chester-le-Street never does.
Yet attendances at Durham’s other home games are relatively good. “There’s always been the assumption that because the North East has such traditional football support where people go out on a Saturday afternoon for an hour-and-a-half of entertainment that Twenty20 was a more obvious fit,” Harker reflected.
“There is clearly some cross-over but I don’t really think we’ve yet broken through in terms of persuading the committed football fan an afternoon of Twenty20 cricket is a good alternative. I’m not sure why.
“Maybe they just need to try cricket. That’s our challenge – to get them to come down and try it.”
Since Twenty20 is cricket’s money-spinner, it is a conundrum Durham need to crack