As COVID-19 keeps wreaking havoc worldwide, putting entire countries under severe economic and healthcare stress, it has also brought much of the sporting world to a grinding halt.
Confusing times are not uncommon for cricketers.
Bizarre and frustrating incidents are rarely confined to a match or a season, instead preferring to spread themselves out neatly over the course of a career, meaning the often-quoted maxim that “cricket is a funny game, but I haven’t laughed in years” rings true for many who play the game.
With this in mind, and with a nod to the uncertain and unnerving times in which we now find ourselves, it seems an opportune moment to dissect just some of the quirks and oddities that pervade our summer game.
At its most basic level the rain delay sees an interruption from normal play, with cricketers are shunned to the confines of the dressing room, finding themselves at a loose end and searching desperately for anything to keep themselves entertained until they can return to the field and a sense of normality. Sound familiar?
It exists because cricket is no good in the wet. The leather ball quickly becomes unusable. A few shots to the outfield and it resembles a long-discarded dog toy. Impossible to grip, it renders the fundamental skills of the fielding side – bowling and catching – nigh on impossible.
It’s no better for the batsmen either, as the rain will rapidly ruin even the most expensive of English willow cricket bats. Don’t forget either that for an outdoor sport too much rain on the turf wicket will see it flooded, and a flooded pitch means no match. So it usually doesn’t take long once the rain starts falling for the umpires to demand the covers be fixed in position before ushering both teams from the field.
Once off the field, players must confront their next challenge: how to pass the time. Usually there is an initial flurry to the smartphone to check the radar – more on the Bureau of Meteorology’s role in the rain delay later – to establish how long they’ll need to entertain themselves.
From this point some among the group – usually the younger ones – will start playing some form of mini cricket. Cries of, “One hand, one bounce,” and, “Can’t get out first ball” drive those not involved in the match to the clubrooms to make themselves a weak and wholly disappointing cup of instant coffee. Faced here with the unenviable task of making small talk with the opposition, some among the group will instead turn to the races in search of a quick buck and to help kill the time.
With no sign of the rain easing, and having been quarantined off the ground for almost an hour, an early lunch will be called, giving the umpires another half hour’s grace before having to make a decision. Inevitably the half-hour lunch break will provide some respite from the rain, perhaps even some sunshine. Oh, the irony.
About 20 minutes after the last sandwich has been finished and only 20 minutes before everyone thinks to crack open their first beer the umpire will poke his head into the dressing room to let the team know that the rain has ceased momentarily and there will be an inspection in five minutes. It’s uUsually met with groans from those who are on the punt. Everyone knows this means one thing: covers.
No cricketer is actually quite sure of the best way to remove a full set of covers despite the fact they have to do it in at least some capacity almost every match of the season. In any case, 22 players will try to navigate the immeasurably heavy ‘full cover’ off the square.
This usually requires one person – usually a senior player for the home team – to establish himself as the foreman, providing directions and advice to 21 others as to how they can get this damned thing off the ground while providing limited actual assistance in shifting it. The foreman is not to be confused with the umpire or umpires, who refuse to help in this process, instead preferring to walk around to the furthest corners of the outfield, prodding the surface with an umbrella to test just how wet the ground is.
Once the full cover is finally off, it will necessarily start to drizzle. At this point everyone becomes an expert thanks to our aforementioned friend, the radar, courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology.
Few things give cricketers a sense of power like announcing to everyone else on the ground that the covers really should have stayed on considering there is another band of yellow coming through in about 15 minutes. Real or imagined, the bands, loops and systems of rain and weather that make themselves identifiable on the 256-kilometre radar loop keep cricketers intrigued and often engaged in heated debate about the resumption of play. Added to which, there is an inherent bias in each player’s perspective on the matter considering the current state of the match. Yes, remember there is still a game going on despite the fact there hasn’t been any action for over three hours!
By the time 4:30pm rolls around with still no play, everyone has reached the end of their tether – see quarantine day 12. The umpire, lured by the dangling carrot of a full day’s pay for less than a full day’s play, is keen to call stumps.
Importantly, calling it a day relies on agreement from both captains to pull the pin. This is of less consequence if the rain is falling on the first day of a two-day game – a one-day match can be played next week. But in any other scenario the decision to shake hands and abandon play can have a significant bearing on the ladder position. What if other teams get a full day? What if it stops raining and we could actually get back on? What if?
Cricketers find themselves in the unique position where the fortunes of a match, a season and even a career can be in the hands of the weather. Embracing the fact that the unknown and uncontrollable wield such influence, perhaps we can all heed an idea from those who wait in the dressing room, allowing it all simply to pass before resuming as normal.