July 20, 2003

Cotton-wool clouds and the 3 Test series

The denizens of Darwin were surprised yesterday: the sky, which had been resolutely blue throughout the town's inaugural Test, acquired some clouds. At first they were just cotton-wool jobs, straight out of The Simpsons, but towards the end of the second day's play the sky was uniformly grey. At Derby it would have counted as a fine summer's day, but at Darwin there were worries that the umps would go off for bad light.

Even my taxi-driver was fooled by the cumulative cumulo-nimbus. "Those clouds are too high for rain," he pronounced, in a fine impersonation of Michael "No Hurricane" Fish. "It never rains here in July. We might get a shower or two in September, then the rainy season really starts in October."

But there's an unwritten rule of cricket which states that when you put on a Test match you get rain too. At Bulawayo a few years ago a long drought was broken by the deadly double of staging a Test and getting Dickie Bird to umpire it. The Bird option isn't available any more, although it was rather a surprise not to find him somewhere in the Marrara Oval, dabbing his eyes and telling the one about his dad walking from Barnsley to Leeds every day to watch The Don.

Anyway it did rain, during the night. Briefly. For about three or four minutes, shocked Darwinians reported. It probably constituted half the town's annual average rainfall for July, which is one measly millimetre. The third day, though, dawned cloudless as Bangladesh resumed their hopeless struggle.

On the field some arcane television regulation ensured that the sponsors' logos, which had been placed in the conventional position behind the wicketkeeper at both ends, had been blotted out and repainted at the sides of the square. After a change of sponsor for Australian Tests this year that means there is a giant figure 3 at cover and midwicket. It looks a bit like the ever-expanding Merv Hughes has left his one-day shirts to dry on the outfield.

The new sponsors are Hutchison 3G, a telecommunications company, and the big 3 is their corporate logo. This means, confusingly, that this is the 3 Test series, even though there are only two actual Tests in it. Later this year Australia take on Zimbabwe in another two-Test 3 Test series. And that's followed by the 3 Test series against India, which actually contains four matches. It will be a relief when 3 finally get a three-Test series, but that won't be until next year at least. In the meantime watch out for the second 3 Test at Cairns ...

Neatly, this 3 Test is going to end on the third day, which means a couple of days of sightseeing for the teams and the accompanying media circus, which includes six journalists from Bangladesh, most of whom are valiantly searching for new slants on the phrase "lost by an innings". It's a shame, though, that Darwin's cricket lovers are being slightly short-changed - the whole town has welcomed these strange white-clad visitors, and the weather is so perfect for cricket (the occasional cloud excepted) that it's a wonder no-one thought of playing up here before. It's probably a good time to make your reservations for next July, when Sri Lanka will be here.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden CricInfo.

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