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CRICKET: WHEN THE HEAVENS OPEN UP

Updated June 23, 2019

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The covers and floodlights are on as rain stopped play during the match between Pakistan and India at Old Trafford | AFP
The covers and floodlights are on as rain stopped play during the match between Pakistan and India at Old Trafford | AFP

Cricket is perhaps the sport that gets exceedingly affected when the rain clouds open up, leading to with definite curtailments in play or even no action at all. The past several weeks, since the ICC World Cup began in England and Wales, the greatest point of discussion has been the number of matches affected due to rain.

Thus far, four matches have had to be abandoned because of rain. Three of the four fixtures — already a record for the global one-day extravaganza — failed to get any start, while the other match saw just a handful of overs being bowled.

And with the 48-game competition barely having crossed the halfway mark the gloomy prospects of more matches being disrupted by weather interventions cannot be ruled out. In such a scenario, the clamour for ‘reserve day’ as compensation for a washed out event is unsurprising, given the importance attached to the World Cup.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s governing body, has very rightly spurned calls from certain quarters to introduce the provision of a reserve day for every single league-phase match purely on logistics grounds.

The rain gods have not been kind to the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales. Eos takes a look at how rains have affected matches in the game’s biggest event over the years

Even in this modern age, with all the available scientific gadgets, one can never really predict the pattern of the weather cycle. Meteorological experts, no matter how knowledgeable, can’t accurately foretell the actual unfolding of the weather.

There were no guarantees of the actual match being played even if the reserve day was in place. One can vividly remember the almost-forgotten 1979 World Cup in England, when they were not one but two reserve days for all 12 group matches, let alone the semi-finals and final. But the notorious Manchester weather had the last laugh in the pool fixture between the West Indies and Sri Lanka at Old Trafford, as all three days fell prey to spells of torrential rains. In the end, it didn’t have any real impact on the tournament since Sri Lanka — then yet to become a Test team — were regarded among the ‘minnows’ of world cricket.

Having said that, this issue of rain interfering in World Cup games does carry weight from the affected teams’ perspectives. Take, for example, Sri Lanka’s case. Two of the four abandoned fixtures in this World Cup involved them, which has possibly put them out of the race for the knockout round.

Potentially also on the way to early elimination are the underperforming Pakistan. As they sit contritely above bottom-rooted Afghanistan with only three points from five matches, Pakistan may rue losing that extra one point after their tie with Sri Lanka in Bristol was washed out. On paper, and despite all their struggles, Sarfraz Ahmed’s men were fancied to beat the Dimuth Karunaratne-led side had play been possible.

It is worth mentioning here how every point counts. The predicament faced by Pakistan has remarkable similarity with their triumphant World Cup campaign of 1992. Then they were also on the verge of virtual humiliation after garnering a mere three points from five matches but somehow managed to lift the trophy in a stunning turnaround.

But the ironic part of the 1992 fairy tale was that the rain had delivered Pakistan a miraculous point out of nowhere. Put into bat at the Adelaide Oval, Pakistan were blown away for just 74 runs in 40.2 overs in a torturous batting display against a proficient England bowling.

England were well on their way to a clinical victory at 24-1 in eight overs after further stoppages for rain revised their target to 64 from 16 overs. But the heavens opened up relentlessly to enable Pakistan to escape a certain defeat. The point they gained from the rain was to become a priceless tool because it made all the difference between making it to the knock-out round and heading home earlier.

The same rain factor which was very, very kind to Pakistan became the villain in the piece for the desperately unfortunate South Africa in that same World Cup. Who can ever forget the rain-disrupted second semi-final in Sydney, where England were declared winners on the basis of their rivals being required to score as many as 21 runs from one available delivery on resumption. Nobody can guess what might have happened had rain not ruined South Africa’s victory chances.

The pain of not reaching the final 27 years ago still can be felt in South Africa as they are the only major Test-playing nation who have never made it to the title-decider.

In the long history of the World Cup, there have been five occasions where rain-related issues have forced complete abandonment; but there are eight other matches where the weather intervened to such an extent that teams had to share points with ‘no-result’ being the outcome of those games in the score books.

ABANDONED/NO RESULT WORLD CUP FIXTURES

*denotes matches called off without a ball being bowled — KHK
*denotes matches called off without a ball being bowled — KHK

And in one of the weirdest situations, there was a forgettable piece of history recorded at the unheralded — and literally unheard of since then — Harrup Park in Mackay (which is a central suburb of Queensland on Australia’s eastern coast). In a match already curtailed to 20 overs per side, after rains considerably delayed the start, just two deliveries were bowled in which India reached 1-0 against Sri Lanka, when a violent rainstorm flooded the small ground.

The tailpiece of this story is quite soggy as well. For those who are still unaware, the topic is that the very birth of One-Day International cricket came about by chance. England — as they used to be referred to since they travelled overseas under the banner of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) — were in the middle of an Ashes series Down Under. The scheduled third Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was abruptly cancelled after it had rained incessantly for about three to four days before the game was to begin and the slated first two days were called off in advance before the final decision was taken on day three. Fearing huge financial losses, cricket administrators of both Australia and England agreed to play an additional Test to the already planned itinerary of six, much to the chagrin of the visiting team members.

However, in the meantime, to provide the public some sort of entertainment, it was mutually decided to stage a 40-over (eight-ball overs were in operation during those times in Australia and some other countries) encounter. Initially it was viewed with a feeling of trepidation from the cricket purists with ‘XI’ being added after their respective country names. But it was thus that rain paved the way for the birth of ODIs on Jan 5, 1971. The rest is history.

The writer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 23rd, 2019