The rain rule: Cricket must err on the side of action

There are few things more frustrating in cricket than to have no play while the ground is bathed in sunshine. The absence of logic here can be overwhelming.

Two Test matches last week — in Durban and in Port of Spain — were “washed out”, but that isn’t strictly true. A washout implies incessant rain, but both venues had sunshine for over three days while the life was steadily squeezed out of the competition by a combination of poor scheduling and lack of preparedness.

It rains in the Caribbean in August while the outfield at Kingsmead, Durban had only recently been dug up and needed time to settle down.

Test cricket must ensure that an already diminishing audience is not further diminished because of administrative apathy. Super soppers are expensive, ground covers too, but the International Cricket Council must carry out periodic checks to ensure that grounds are equipped to handle international matches.

Deeply unsatisfying

There was something deeply unsatisfying about the India-West Indies series: the timing was wrong, the Caribbean Premier League clashed with the dates, and overall the series only served to exaggerate the worth of the performances on the Indian side.

The final draw meant that India were not given a chance to keep their recently-won top ranking in the format. Pakistan, who haven’t played at home since 2009 following the attack on the touring Sri Lankan cricketers then, moved into that slot. Pakistan showed in England that, like the girl in the nursery rhyme, when they are good they are very good, but when they are bad they are horrid.

Cricket is, in a sense, a house divided against itself, with the shorter formats threatening to upstage the longest. Spectators at two venues were deprived of action for no fault of their own, and sponsors have been given one more reason to turn away from Test cricket.

The ICC is loath to interfere in these matters, but it must hand the hosts a detailed “must-do” list and double check everything before the start of a series.

Both Durban and Port of Spain are traditional centres, having hosted over 100 Tests between them, yet sentiment alone cannot be the guiding force.

If matches do not take place owing to human agency, then such hosts bring the game into disrepute, and ought to be pulled up. After all, players pay the price for bad judgement, why shouldn’t officials?

But there’s another side to it. Umpires and players look for perfect conditions before an interrupted game can resume.

The balance ought to be weighted in favour of play in less-than-perfect conditions so long as there is no physical danger to the players.

Last year, a Test in Bengaluru against South Africa was called off owing to this search for perfection.

Cricket’s administrators tend to be conservative, but I think the benefit of the doubt should go to the spectator.

In the foreword to Rain Stops Play by Andrew Hignell, a study of the game in the context of geography, John Kettley, a weather professional wrote: “If we are to believe that global warming is occurring, with El Nino being a contributory factor, I can readily see the cricket seasons around the world being adjusted (within commercial constraints)…we can expect to lose more Test matches to the weather.”

That was written in 2002 (which explains the uncertainty over global warming), but if cricket is set to lose more days to the weather unexpectedly, then all the more reason to be prepared when the expected happens, as it did in Trinidad.

Fussy lot?

Do modern cricketers make too much of a fuss? Till the latter half of the last century, pitches were left uncovered, and old timers like Ray Illingworth and Geoff Boycott were nostalgic about that period. To make runs on a rain-affected wicket was the highest test a batsman could be subjected to. The Australian writer Ray Robinson highlighted Bradman’s weakness on such tracks, pointing out that in 15 innings over a period of ten years, he averaged just 16.66 with a lone fifty.

“The elements are cricket’s presiding geniuses,” wrote Cardus. Players who conquer the elements dine at the high table, admired for their technique and all-round ability.

Cricket and rain have a long and much-parodied relationship. The English historian Peter Heather wrote, “Why it was the British who invented cricket, the only game that cannot be played in the rain, remains one of history’s great mysteries.”

Americans find it odd that not only do the players break for tea, they come off at the first hint of rain too. Even if the latter helps bring the covers on early and thereby guarantees a quick start when the weather clears, it also ensures a certain antiseptic quality to the 22 yards.

The choice seems to be between total coverage of the field or none at all, leaving it to nature and the technically sound batsman.

If the ICC doesn’t take a stand, it is possible that television will.

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 12:01:35 AM |

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