Rainy day in cricket: Pause and effect

Vijay Lokapally | Updated on July 03, 2020

Heads or tails: A rainy day can deprive teams of victories. It can also help them escape embarrassing defeats   -  REUTERS/ANDY CLARK

Rain is the extra player in cricket who can always pull a surprise on the players and spectators

Like many a sparring yet besotted couple from Mills & Boon novels, cricket and rain share a strange love equation. This romance has all the elements of drama: Low light, dark clouds, tempestuous moods and a fairly large cast. The very first drops of rain elicit a collective sigh — of either hope or distress — from players and spectators, while the action spills onto the stands and the dressing room. The mercurial weather god becomes the subject of discussion at the commentators’ box and strategists put their heads together for a post-rain game plan.

Rain can join a cricket match at any time of the day, but the morning instalment of local news in countries such as England, New Zealand and Australia is almost always spot on with its expected time of arrival. “You are not going to have any game today” — the taxi driver is likely to caution you on your ride to the ground.

The nature of cricket makes it dependent on the whims of, well, nature — rain, fog, heat and humidity. Of all the elements, former cricketer and coach KP Bhaskar finds the rain most heartless. In 1988, Bhaskar’s one-day international debut against New Zealand in Jammu was marred by showers. On the morning of the match, Bhaskar’s first glimpse of the sky from the hotel window drilled a hole in his heart. The match was washed out along with his dream of batting for the national team. “Have never liked the rain since that day,” he tells BLink.

Rain can deprive teams of victories. It can also help them escape embarrassing defeats. It came to India’s aid in 1971, when the team was playing a Test match against England at the Lord’s. The guests needed 38 runs to win the match with just two wickets in hand when, just before tea, it started pouring. Before the rain, the match could have gone either way. But India managed to clinch its first ever series win in England, courtesy the rain.

Fourteen years later, rain took a Test match and a series out of India’s reach in 1985, this time against Australia. Former India paceman Chetan Sharma still remembers the moment the moisture-laden clouds first appeared on the horizon. “We had heard that rain was on the way. Then, we saw it coming. It was heartbreaking,” Sharma recalls.

Among the most dramatic rainy interventions in cricket history was a 1992 World Cup match between Pakistan and England. The former seemed all set for an exit from the tournament when they were dismissed for only 74 runs by the latter. Eight overs into the second innings of the match, when England were at 24 runs at the loss of a wicket, play was suspended due to rain. It poured till the match was called off, lending Pakistan a lifeline in the championship. The team used it well, scoring its first and only World Cup victory till date.


Humour and hamper

The English summer, which is curiously prone to midday showers, is also one of the best seasons for county cricket. The players are in starched white clothes, the sunshine is mellow (when not swallowed up by clouds) and the grounds a stunning green in the daylight. An umbrella or a raincoat is part of the day-bag the English spectator carries to the ground. There’s also a pack of sandwiches, a summer drink and a book, which comes in handy when he or she has to wait for play to resume.

Rain also has a sense of humour — as a rookie captain discovered once. At the toss, the day was all bright and sunny, so the captain opted to bat first. As the openers prepared to leave the dressing room, the weather changed colour; it grew dark and gloomy. The ball swung prodigiously and the decision to bat first proved disastrous. “If only he had read the weather report before coming to the ground,” one of his colleagues lamented.

Tables turned

While English summer still allows for play, some tours of Sri Lanka serve up more rain than cricket. In 1993, the opening Test match at Kandy found Indian players rediscovering their skills at swimming, table tennis and tennis. On two days, the teams did not even need to leave the hotel for the ground.

When cricket was out of bounds, Kapil Dev switched to tennis for recreation. But he was so good at the game that his colleagues were unwilling to set up a match. Navjot Singh Sidhu was unbeatable at table tennis even though Sachin Tendulkar was a determined opponent. Having “thrashed” Tendulkar in their maiden encounter, Sidhu settled for a round of meditation in his hotel room. A knock at the door found him facing Tendulkar. “Chal, Sherry,” the then young man ordered. Again, Sidhu won hands down. The knocking at the door continued till Sidhu, sensing that he wouldn’t have respite till he accepted defeat, decided to tank a match. Four years later, on yet another trip to Sri Lanka, Tendulkar beat everyone in the team at table tennis — with his ambidexterity.

By book or by crook

Rain stoppages, however enjoyable for some players and viewers, are not a favourite of all. They break the rhythm of a match and also cause hardships to the spectators. Music, in the dressing room or on the sound system of the stadium, seems to be the most obvious pastime in recent years, though cricketers of a certain vintage — WV Raman and Rahul Dravid, for instance — preferred reading above anything else. Journalists often used these breaks to gain access to players and managers outside the rigid structure of press conferences. Rain stoppages are also those lucky moments when an otherwise press-shy cricketer may just agree to an exclusive interview.

Such interviews and conversations often make it to the memoirs of sports writers, or even documentary films. The cricket-crazy school student likes to keep it simple. When asked to describe a match, three words say it best: “Rain, no play”.

Vijay Lokapally is a Delhi-based sports journalist

Published on July 03, 2020

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