CHI (AFP) - Rows of empty seats and thousands of unsold tickets have provided a bleak backdrop to Pakistan's first Test in 14 months, with heavy-handed security blamed for keeping the usually raucous crowds away.
Early on day three of the Test against Sri Lanka, barely 200 spectators rattled around the 34,000-capacity National Stadium, with even offers of free tickets failing to draw fans.
Schoolchildren filled one stand on Saturday, and on Sunday, barely 2,000 people witnessed Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera's world record 437 partnership.
"I think overwhelming security is to blame," said Ramiz Raja, a former Pakistan captain and ex-chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
"It was not like this when we hosted India in 2004 -- the last time I saw stadiums packed before the start of the match."
Security is a major concern in Karachi, a teeming port city with a reputation for attacks, especially after a series of incidents last year which ripped Pakistan's cricket schedule to shreds.
Australia cancelled a tour over security fears and India scrapped a visit in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, while Pakistan also lost the right to hold the elite Champions Trophy in September.
At National Stadium, around 2,000 policemen stand guard. Fans are body-searched at the entrance and banned from taking water bottles and food inside.
"It plagues us no end," said one spectator, Raheem Siddiqui. "It is tough on us, you need to buy water and food which is an added expense.
"Why not then watch the match in the comforts of your drawing room?"
PCB chairman Ijaz Butt denied security was over the top and said fans now preferred watching limited-overs cricket.
"It's not a hurdle. We have to make extraordinary security arrangements because we don't want any mishap," said Butt, whose board suffered huge losses over the tour cancellations.
"It has been going on for years now that we do not have crowds in Tests," he told AFP. "When we hosted Sri Lanka for one-dayers, we had a packed stadium in Lahore and good crowds came for the Karachi matches."
PCB incentives have also failed to bring in the crowds. Seven stands are free entry, while the most expensive ticket for the other five tribunes is just 50 rupees (62 cents).
A lucky draw offers two prizes of 25,000 rupees (312 dollars) for spectators each day, and a bumper prize of 200,000 rupees (2,500 dollars) on the final day.
But on Sunday, with security outnumbering fans, one prize went to a policeman.
Raja said the PCB needed further innovation to bring back crowds who were previously known as among the most passionate in the world.
"They need to make it a social event. I would suggest having music during intervals and that all the reserve players, if not the main players, go to the stands and mingle with the crowd and give them souvenirs," he said.
Former paceman Sikander Bakht agreed that organisers needed to reach out to fans.
"The PCB will have to make the Test spectator-friendly," said Bakht. "They must allow people to bring food items and make the matches a kind of picnic so that they could bring their families."
Former England paceman Dominic Cork said the growing popularity of Twenty20 and one-day cricket means Test organisers now have to work hard to attract fans.
"It's not just Pakistan but it's a trend the world over that less people come to Tests. They now enjoy T20 and day-night cricket," said Cork, who is here as television commentator.
"Pakistani people must realise that to have top teams touring here they must turn up. I am impressed with the PCB's initiative of a lucky draw, they are doing their bit to attract crowds," said Cork.