Attendances at the Edgbaston Test match between England and Pakistan this summer were disappointing.
In Birmingham, and at other venues around the country, there is clear evidence that large Test match crowds can no longer be taken for granted.
Understandably, in a time of recession, cricket-watchers are selecting their matches.
While the ECB strives to squeeze the maximum number of Tests into an English season like a student body trying to cram a world-record number of its members into a telephone box, the punters have drawn a line.
At Warwickshire, the future staging of Tests at Edgbaston is, we are constantly told, vital to the club’s future (how brilliant must those administrators be at Derbyshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Kent, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Sussex and Worcestershire to keep their clubs going). So small crowds are a worry.
The battle is on to entice people from Birmingham and surrounding areas along to Tests.
But this battle is nothing new.
Rewind 50 years to June 1960. England beat South Africa by 100 runs at Edgbaston in front of crowds so meagre that Warwickshire secretary Leslie Deakins was livid.
“If Birmingham wants Test matches in the future,” he complained, “the city must give them far better support. It is a major disappointment after all we have done to win back Test match status for Edgbaston.”
What really got Deakins’ goat (a phrase, incidentally, originating from the early 20th-century practice of racehorse trainers, faced with a highly-strung horse, giving them a goat as a stable companion – the goat had a calming influence on the steed so anyone wishing to sabotage the horse’s chance the night before a big race would remove the goat) was a pathetic last-day crowd.
Going into the fifth day the match was set for an exciting finish with all results possible. South Africa were to resume on 120 for three, requiring 310 for victory.
Yet the overhelming majority of the 1,105,651 residents in Birmingham declined to pop in. There were just 1,074 paying spectators.
Deakins and his colleagues were aghast and left wondering whether their long campaign to bring Tests back to Birmingham (the 1957 visit of West Indies was the first Test there since 1929) was worthwhile.
There were mitigating circumstances. Numerous Warwickshire members had written to the club pledging not to attend the match as a gesture against the Apartheid policy in South Africa.
And the atmosphere on the first day was hardly enhanced by the presence of police with dogs, though protests by the Birmingham and District Anti-Apartheid Committee were entirely orderly.
The weather was dull and chilly – and then there was the cricket. That was pretty dull and chilly too.
The opening day set the tone when only 6,775 people turned up and a good few probably wished they hadn’t bothered after watching England crawl to 175 for three from 98 overs.
Only Ted Dexter showed a vestige of aggression as Geoff Pullar, Raman Subba Row and Mike Smith plodded along.
The second day was also slow, though not quite as slow, England reaching 292, and the tourists replying with 114 for five, but the showpiece day, Saturday, was agonising. It yielded just 161 runs as South Africa meandered along to 186 all out before England replied with 86 for four.
As the contest lumbered on through its fourth day, at least it closed on Monday night with intriguing possibilities.
In pursuit of 310, South Africa had appeared to be heading for heavy defeat when Brian Statham struck twice to reduce them to five for two. But Roy McLean ended the day on 68 and, with the resolute John Waite beside him, still posed a threat. Game on.
Not enough to stir Birmingham from its regular Tuesday routines. Just over 1,000 were there so see Trueman bowl McLean with his second ball of the day and, along with Statham and Ray Illingworth, dismiss the rest in two hours.