Surrey crowd pilot friendly attracts 1,000 fans at The Oval

Sunshine, the crack of willow on leather, an obligatory rain break and 1,000 grateful spectators were all part of the scene in Surrey’s crowd pilot friendly with Middlesex at The Oval.

England’s first taste of live spectator sport since the coronavirus lockdown was described by Surrey chief executive Richard Gould as “a definite success”.

Fans were spaced by alternate rows and two-seat gaps per group in two stands.

Spectators sipped beers, while big screens provided entertainment.

Hand sanitiser was placed around the ground to encourage those in attendance to keep up with protocols, while there were also pump bottles of gel placed around the boundary ropes for the players.

There was plenty of demand for tickets from Surrey’s members, with Gould confirming 10,000 calls were made to snap up the 1,000 places available within an hour of them going on sale.

While there was pleasure in seeing crowds return on this smaller scale, Gould sounded a more sobering note regarding the future.

“To get 1,000 people desperate to come, and more, is great,” Gould said. “The sun is shining, cricket is taking place and people look happy.

“We’ve got about 100 staff in, so it’s like a 10 to one ratio. This one is not viable in truth but we hope that if trials could get extended, we can then move to a more viable way.

“People are being really sensible, so if people are being really sensible you can adjust the numbers, so 30% [capacity] is not viable in the long term but it’s a start.

“You’d need to be getting north of 60% or 70% for commercial viability. That’s not going to happen with cricket this summer, but that would be the number that other sports will be wanting to try and get to.”

On the field Surrey were all out for 335 from 90 overs during the day, with Scott Borthwick making 87, backed by Jordan Clark’s unbeaten 67 and 62 from Will Jacks.

Middlesex, who will bat tomorrow weather permitting, had six different wicket takers, with doubles for Tim Murtagh, Blake Cullen, Nathan Sowter and Thilan Walallawita, while James Harris and Toby Roland-Jones took one apiece.

“It was brilliant to see the crowd in – everyone’s been starved of cricket this summer [and] it doesn’t feel like a summer without it,” Surrey head coach Vikram Solanki told BBC Radio London.

“The fact we were able to get out there today in reasonable weather, the cloud threatened for a while, but it was great and it served its purpose.”

Two other friendlies – Warwickshire’s crowd-pilot derby with Worcestershire and Lancashire’s two-day game with Derbyshire – had been set to start on Monday but both have been put back 24 hours because of the prospect of rain that day.

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