CHESTER-LE-STREET: Three days of rain, a high water table brought about by the nearby River Wear, and no sign of a dry spell, caused the first day of the fourth and final Test between England and West Indies to be called off soon after noon the earliest decision since insurance and repayments to spectators made such rulings sensitive.
It was hardly a surprise. Three supersoppers had been wheeling up and down all morning but to be frank the groundstaff might as well have used a bath sponge and a teaspoon for all the good they did.
Their frequent trips to the edge of the field to dispose of their brimming tanks suggested that they were fighting a losing battle; so did the dismal weather forecast and the horizon to horizon layer of cloud that made the scene like the seascape of one of those wartime movies involving the Bismark and gallant, out-gunned British warships.
Worse to follow
If you think that is bad news, there is worse to come. The forecast for Saturday talks of thundery showers, a couple of inches of rain and no play again. I understand the umpires have said that they fear a call-off on Saturday is inevitable even in the unlikely event of the rain stopping now. The day was a sell-out and so is Saturday and all that money amounting to £640,000 has to be repaid to the 15,000 who probably never left their homes this morning in view of the weathermen's warnings.
The England and Wales Cricket Board tried to cheer all those who had spent their morning at the Riverside by announcing that the party of England Lions - the old England A rebranded - would play West Indies in a warm-up match on June 21 at Worcester before the one-day games against the full England side.
The biggest surprise must be the return of Paul Nixon, the ebullient England wicketkeeper in the World Cup, but thought at 37 to be too old to have a future. "We have spent a lot of time trying to find a keeper who bats since Alec Stewart retired," said David Graveney, chairman of selectors. "Nixon still fills that role." The squad includes Stuart Broad, perhaps the most exciting young all-rounder since Andrew Flintoff, back after injury.
The England Lions squad: Vikram Solanki (capt.), Will Jefferson, Ed Joyce, Owais Shah, Michael Yardy, Alex Gidman, Paul Nixon, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Kabir Ali, James Anderson and Gareth Batty.