The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Corporate hospitality hot at Oval

London, Sept. 8: Indian curry millionaire Sir Gulam Noon today told The Telegraph that he had paid '550 each for 10 tickets to entertain his corporate guests at the Oval, where the last Test between England and Australia got under way at 10.30 am in bright sunshine.

He obviously thinks the outlay of '5,500 is well worth the investment because the country is in the grip of cricket fever and demand for tickets far outstrips supply. “Tickets are changing hands on the black market for '1,000,” said Noon happily. That’s about 40 times the face value of most tickets.

Even before play begins, there is a champagne breakfast for corporate guests. This is followed by a lavish lunch, tea at four and then drinks after stumps. There is waitress service, always something to munch between overs and a glass of bubbly to celebrate the fall of an Australian wicket, or, alternatively, seek consolation for the loss of an English one. There is also the chance to network and bond bloke to bloke.

“Corporate sponsorship is a very good thing,” enthused Noon. That opinion is shared by his guests from Sainsbury’s, the supermarket chain which sells Noon’s chilled Indian meals.

A report today in the Financial Times, ‘The Ashes become hottest corporate ticket in years’, says: “The last battle of the summer between the adversaries has also become the hottest ticket on the UK corporate hospitality.”

It says: “Those fortunate enough to have been offered one of the 12,000 or so corporate places available over the first four days of the match will know they are in receipt of something much more valuable than the face value of the ticket.”

In these heady times, when the English have found a new pride in their cricket, one story continues to baffle the English cricket lobby.

This is the difficulty that the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, is experiencing in acquiring a British passport. He has led England to the verge of Ashes glory but cannot persuade officials at the home office to give him a passport.

Fletcher, 56, born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, of two British parents and four British grandparents, has twice been rebuffed in applications for citizenship by home office bureaucrats because he spends more than 90 days abroad annually.

Fletcher has pointed out: “I’ve been told I can’t qualify on a residential basis because I don’t spend enough time in the country, but that’s because I am away coaching England!”

He has had endorsements from big names from the past.

The matter has even been raised with the Speaker by Tory MP, John Bercow, who said: “Further to the report that the application for a passport by Mr. Duncan Fletcher, the excellent Zimbabwe-born coach of the England cricket team, has been refused, have you received any indication from a minister at the home office that he or she intends to come to the House to explain that curious conduct, particularly to assure honourable Members that the rejection is not explained by the fact that Mr. Fletcher is neither a donor to the Labour party nor a sponsor of the millennium dome'”

To which Mr Speaker replied stiffly: “I have had no such indication.”

However, home secretary Charles Clarke has dropped a hint that he might use his discretion to override technical objections to Fletcher’s application, which was first submitted 14 years ago.

If England do win the Ashes, many expect Fletcher to get not only a passport but also a knighthood.

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