Fans fi­nally re­turn to

Sur­rey wel­come back 1,000 spec­ta­tors in first trial fix­ture in Bri­tain, with hope of fur­ther re­lax­ations of re­stric­tions

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket - By Jeremy Wilson CHIEF SPORTS RE­PORTER

The con­trast be­tween the of­ten rau­cous massed crowds of the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val and the se­date sight of county cricket could hardly be greater but, af­ter a wait of 136 days since rac­ing’s blue riband event, fans fi­nally re­turned to one of Bri­tish sport’s ma­jor venues yes­ter­day.

There were only 1,000 sup­port­ers of Sur­rey and Mid­dle­sex at the Kia Oval for the first day of a two-day friendly, but it will go down as one of the more wel­come land­marks in the ground’s 175-year his­tory. “It’s been won­der­ful,” said Deb­bie Knight, a Sur­rey mem­ber. “I’ve re­ally missed it. I spend all sum­mer watch­ing cricket.”

Har­jot Sidhu, another Sur­rey mem­ber, said that he felt a “fuzzy feel­ing” of an­tic­i­pa­tion at the sight again of live cricket as Mark Stone­man took guard and Tim Murtagh be­gan his run-up from the Pavil­ion End for the first ball of the morn­ing.

View from the bound­ary: Sur­rey take on Mid­dle­sex at the Kia Oval (above), with spec­ta­tors well spaced out (above right) and happy to fol­low safety pro­to­cols (right)

The un­mis­tak­able sub­se­quent sound of ball on bat fol­lowed by po­lite but en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause has rarely felt bet­ter. Face masks were not deemed nec­es­sary be­yond or­der­ing at two of the un­der­cover bars and cater­ing stands and, with the beer steadily flow­ing, it all felt strik­ingly re­laxed and nor­mal.

A pre-sea­son friendly would usu­ally at­tract only about 50 spec­ta­tors, but Sur­rey fielded more than 10,000 tele­phone calls from their 13,500 mem­bers within an hour of tick­ets go­ing on sale last Thurs­day.

Also present for the first of three pi­lot events with sports fans were rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Sports Grounds Safety Au­thor­ity, the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board and the Depart­ment for Digital, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport.

The tar­get for a per­ma­nent re­turn of fans is Oct 1, but the clear hope is that this trial will help per­suade the Gov­ern­ment to ac­cel­er­ate its plan­ning. With gates open­ing at 9.30am for a leisurely 11am start in­side a 25,000-ca­pac­ity venue, there was rarely any risk of over­crowd­ing, but the ex­pe­ri­ence did prompt ques­tions about the new SGSA guide­lines and the ex

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