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Dampening the Spirit

5 September, 2009.

It was ridiculous to let a wet patch scuttle a match, writes Peter Roebuck

Nothing has been more ridiculous in the last few weeks than the sight of highly paid cricketers solemnly prodding the ground at Old Trafford. Throughout they looked as serious as Colombo examining a crime scene.

A packed house waited with bated breath upon their verdict. England was due to play Australia in a twenty over match. Some of the spectators had been looking forwards to the contest for months. They anticipated a night of thrills and spills. Here was a chance for young and old see their heroes in action and also to watch an exciting contest unfold in a few hours.

An opportunity

Here was an opportunity for cricket to widen its audience. After all the teams were playing in Manchester, a city with a couple of handy soccer teams. Cricket was riding a wave. The Ashes series had been fun and the local side had secured a famous victory.

Alas the weather had been unfavourable, with rain falling the previous night and into the afternoon. Still, it was only a twenty over match and anyhow modern covers are efficient. Everyone waited for the match to begin. Conditions might not be perfect but these players were used to that.

But, wait, what was this? More prodding, more grave head shaking, all and sundry staring at a single patch of ground – a small area likely to be pounded by the faster bowlers – as they gathered themselves to deliver.

Although not squelchy, it was muddy and likely to deteriorate. Umpires, captains and pacemen looked at it and concluded that the conditions underfoot were intolerable. And so, cravenly, the match was abandoned and the crowd told to go home. No cricket, none. There was a wet patch in the wrong place. In an instant much of the good work of the summer was undone.

The Pavilion at Old Trafford 2009

The Pavilion, Old Trafford in August 2009. © Southdunedain [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Puzzling notion

Does cricket even want to survive? When did this notion arise that the game cannot be played in wet conditions? Has anyone ever seen a cricketer injured after slipping? Actually it can happen in the dry. Was the Gabba Test abandoned when Simon Jones hurt himself on the outfield? Soccer and rugby continue in heavy rain yet cricketers scurry for the pavilion at the first sight of drizzle.

Bad light is another cricketing custom. As soon as a cloud comes over umpires start looking at meters and players start scanning the heavens. Has a batsmen ever lost his wicket to bad light? England once kept batting in near darkness as they tried to beat Pakistan. None of the batsmen complained about the gloom. If anything, the fielding side is disadvantaged.

Stop the nonsense

But it’s all claptrap. Cricket needs to stop this nonsense. The show must go on.

Was any consideration given to bowling at one end or one side of the wicket? Great heavens! Actors kept playing their parts as bombs fell on London yet these precious cricketers demand perfection.

Paul Collingwood was captaining England that day and on this evidence his tenure will not last much longer. By all accounts, too, his team was surly on its recent trip to Ireland thereby offending a cricket community that is improving rapidly, a mob that has given England two talented batsmen, Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan. Incredibly one English scribe complained that Ireland was captained by an Australian.

Of course it is not only England. Despite their team needing to win, the Australian opening batsmen left the field at The Oval in 2005.

The rot is widespread. It is a state of mind. And cricket needs to change. Forget about bad light and wet patches, make a plan, play the game, think about the spectators, adapt to conditions. Instead, a large crowd was let down because a bunch of spoilt players found a wet patch.

This article was written for The Hindu
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