Warwickshire chief executive Neil Snowball has stressed the importance of traditional Thursday starts in maintaining the viability of Test cricket in England.
Edgbaston plays host to the 1000th Test of the men’s team when they face India on Wednesday but despite the landmark nature of the contest, and the drawing power of the opposition, there will be empty seats when the game begins.
Gloomy estimates of 10,000 unsold seats have not come to pass, with a late rally at the box office taking the expected crowd past 18,000 – around 5,500 shy of capacity.
Day two sales have been more sluggish but availability for Friday is in the hundreds and advance purchases for Saturday represent an upturn on usual expectations for a fourth day.
Snowball says aggregate sales are in line with expectations but believes regular Thursday starts are easier to market to the Test match public, a group who need to be catered for carefully as limited-overs formats continue to rise in prominence.
“The total number of tickets sold is pretty good, we’re happy with that, it’s just that with a Wednesday start it’s spread out over four days,” he said.
“We find that our customers and spectators here are creatures of habit, they come on Thursday or Friday or Saturday, they’re a day one or day two or day three person.
“If we keep messing them about with Wednesday starts or Friday starts or Saturday starts it just makes the consumer a bit confused. The key with Test cricket is a regular supply, you need a regular supply every year starting on a Thursday,
“There are people who are worried about the longer form of the game. I really hope there will be another 1000 tests, (but) we’ve got to protect Test cricket and cherish it.
“Part of that is getting the schedule right so that for people who want to come along, we make it easy for them and let them know what is going on.”
Edgbaston has the honour of hosting the first Test of next summer’s Ashes, as well as one of three Thursday starts in the series.
Lord’s and Old Trafford both host games beginning on Wednesday, though tickets are unlikely to linger long at the box office with the urn at stake.
Such is the quality stacked on both sides choosing early favourites for the series is no easy task.
As the two heavyweights get ready to collide on Wednesday, we take a look at the key players who could prove to be decisive.
JOE ROOT V VIRAT KOHLI
In Virat Kohli, India have a skipper who very much likes to lead from the front. While his exploits in limited-overs cricket were for all to see, Kohli has really turned it around when it comes to the Test format ever since he took over the captaincy in 2015.
Now, the superstar comes into the series as the top-ranked batsman currently active in international cricket. Even though he has his own demons to banish from his previous tour in 2014, especially with regards to James Anderson, Kohli will know that his performance with the bat could very much dictate the overall outcome of the series.
Root, on the other hand, has not had as successful a run as skipper as Kohli but his performances with the bat have stayed as consistent as ever. What does ail the England captain though, is his growing inability to convert his 50-plus scores into centuries in recent times.
Since his mammoth 254 against Pakistan at Manchester in 2016, Root has only managed to register three Test tons, a pitiful mark for a batsman who is ranked third in the ICC table behind Kohli. While his leadership abilities will be tested to the hilt, the focus will very much be on Root the batsman.
ADIL RASHID V RAVICHANDRAN ASHWIN
The buildup to the Test series has been marred by the controversy created by Adil Rashid’s recall to the England squad. The leg-spinner has not played Test cricket since the end of 2016 before taking a self-imposed exile from red-ball cricket for Yorkshire.
His two leg-spinning rippers which dismissed Kohli in the ODI series is perhaps what persuaded chief selector Ed Smith to hand him a Test recall. It is a bold move from England with the risks being high but if he can keep toppling, it will be a highly rewarding one.
On the other hand, Ashwin’s pedigree with the red-ball is indisputable. With 318 Test wickets to his name at an average of approximately 25, the senior India spinner will fancy his chances of putting in a good showing in England.
He has further bolstered his experience of playing in English conditions by undergoing a county stint with Worcestershire last year. While Kuldeep Yadav’s ‘mystery’ will be a temping option for Kohli, Ashwin’s experience should make him the indisputable first choice in the spin department.
The 31-year-old’s mastery provides India the edge in the spin-department over the hosts.
STUART BROAD V ISHANT SHARMA
Ishant Sharma’s numbers in Test cricket are nothing to shout home about. Despite that, the lanky pacer has played 82 Tests for his country. He very much has the reputation of being an ‘unlucky’ bowler. On some days, he can bowl the most menacing of spells without picking up a wicket. On others, he can run through batting line-ups at will as his match-winning figures of 7-74 at Lord’s in India’s previous tour of 2014 showed.
The 29-year-old enjoyed a fruitful maiden county stint with Sussex earlier this summer and that experience should hold him in good stead for the series.
In Stuart Broad, England have an experienced veteran who can perfectly compliment James Anderson’s skills with the red-ball. With over 100 Tests and 400 wickets under his belt, Broad has been forging a successful partnership with Anderson for the best part of a decade.
However, his powers have been declining in recent times with just one five-wicket haul to his name since the turn of 2017. What he does love though, is bowling against India in England. In the nine Tests he has played against the opponents at home, Broad has picked up 44 wickets at an average of 17.79.
Sehwag, 39, was part of the Arabians squad that played in the 2017 edition but will now offer his expertise as a member of the coaching squad which includes ex-Pakistan fast-bowler Wasim Akram.
Franchise co-owners Parvez Khan and Ali Tumbi are delighted to rope in the 2011 World Cup winner, who amassed 16,000 international runs in his career.
“We had Virendra Sehwag playing for Maratha Arabians in its first season and this year he comes in as a batting coach. We are very happy to have India’s star player as our batting coach this year,” Khan was quoted as saying by TimesNow.
Tumbi added: “Sehwag understands the T10 format very well since he was a very crucial part of our team last year. We believe, his guidance & coaching to our young players will give us a very strong batting order.”
In last week’s Mini Draft in Dubai, Arabians strengthened their squad with the signings of top-ranked T20 bowler Rashid Khan, who will make his debut in the shortest format as well as West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.
They also acquired Australia pacer James Faulkner and Pakistan’s Kamran Akmal. They will finalise their roster in the main draft in Dubai on September 2.