When weather wins

2014-03-14 00:00

CRICKET is a fickle game at the best of times, especially in the T20 format.

Australian all-rounder Shane Watson referred to that ahead of the second T20 in Durban earlier this week and, as it turned out, the match was a touch of fickleness, mixed with farce and intrepidation.

After Sunday’s opener was rained out in Port Elizabeth, both sides were keen for a game at Kingsmead, bearing in mind the Twenty20 World Cup in Bangladesh is days away.

Eyeing the skies on Tuesday, the day before the match, it did not look good. Kingsmead was enveloped by dark, grey clouds and there was a familiar look to the scene, with covers on the pitch and puddles reflecting drops of rain.

The forecast looked bleak, but forever the optimists, we reporters held out hope that the weather gods would grant us at least three hours of freedom, enough for a decent game to go down.

Match day dawned bright and clear, but by late afternoon, it looked all over. Rain, mist — all the ingredients to spoil the occasion — had descended and the game was at the mercy of the elements.

The lights were on at Kingsmead, the near sell-out crowd had arrived, traffic jams were outside the stadium — there was a general feeling that it would be game on and officials at Kingsmead held their breath in anticipation.

While the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union obviously wanted a constituted game to happen in order to avoid having to delve into the whole ticket refund process, what transpired has the cricket purist and many others asking the question, was it really worth it?

For journalists covering the match, the only light we had was in the press box as we were kept in the dark as to what was going on.

Umpires, officials, ground staff — they were all out in the middle, gesturing, pulling off the covers, bringing them back, rolling out tyres — all while the super-sopper was doing its best to fight the rain.

No one knew what was going on. Would there be a game? Many spectators gave it their best and moved on, but a decent percentage bit the bullet and hung around, their reward a seven-over bash that in all honesty should be scrapped from the T20 history books.

Finally, at 8.30 pm, after an 8.15 pm toss, the “game” started and while it may have delivered some entertainment to those who just wanted to see some play, it never got out of first gear.

A wet outfield saw huge patches of sawdust litter the field and a major concern was injury to the players. It’s easy to say “give the people something for their money”, but these people are the first to moan when a top player, vital to possible World Cup success, goes down with an injury. Then it’s easy to point fingers and criticise, when the moment is over and the damage done.

Looking at the players’ body language, the last thing they wanted to do was strap on their kit and start playing an international match at that time of night. There was apprehension in the field from them, fielders backing off from a ball in the air on more than one occasion, preferring to let the ball bounce rather than committing to the catch.

In the press box, there was talk the match should have been called off and while that would have done no favours for the KZNCU or spectators, surely sense would have prevailed.

It seems a travesty that a seven-over hit-and-miss game should officially be recognised as a full-blooded T20 international, recorded in the cricket annuals as such.

There was nothing to it really. There was no time for batsmen to use a few balls to settle — Hashim Amla was a classic example, having a few huge swipes in the hope of connecting the ball sooner or later — and seven overs went by in the blink of an eye.

If they wanted some play and in the context of what was finally decided upon, it might have been better to just play with a tennis ball, no pads and have a quick bash around.

After all, they have unplugged music sessions. Perhaps an unplugged version of cricket could have been introduced as well. It would have been another first for Kingsmead to go along with the historic moment when Sachin Tendulkar was the first Test batsman to be given out through the TV umpire in the 1990s.

While it is understandable that umpires and officials want to give people their money’s worth and hold out for play as long as possible, there should be a ruling that a T20 match cannot fall below 10 overs. At least then, a reasonably decent contest could go down and it would be worth watching.

If weather and time means literally a handful of overs can be played, rather call it a day for the benefit of all involved and for the good name of cricket.

Let’s give cricket and the players the respect they deserve and be bold enough to call “Time, Gentlemen” when the situation warrants it.

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