August 7, 2013

Rain stops hype

Watching desperate cricketers watching the rain with a prayer on their lips is always moving

Is that it? One close match, a walkover and a washout? The build-up to this series had been going on for as long as anyone could remember (in fact, archaeologists recently unearthed a clay tablet on which an Assyrian writer had chiselled a cuneiform preview of the Ashes, which concluded that, in his opinion, this was the worst Australian Test team since the invention of the wheel), but three weeks in and we're already switching over to check the football news.

As the humdrum Lancashire drizzle settled in over the soggy Lancashire sod, the tension in this Ashes series escaped like hot air out of a collapsing-balloon analogy, leaving us with the flappy, deflated remnant of a once mighty dirigible lying limply on the calendar. Out of politeness, we have to pretend to be interested in staring at it for a while longer, until it's time for the bin men to take it to the metaphorical balloon canvas recycling facility, where it will be patched up ready to be re-inflated with hype later in the year.

You have to feel sorry for Michael Clarke. Once the blond D'Artagnan of the Antipodean Musketeers, fate has now cast him as nursemaid to a collection of screw-ups, pin-ups, no-hopers and crocks. And he's got a bad back. And now it's raining. With every misfortune, pit-fall and cowpat life leaves in his way, he more closely resembles that other heroic Michael, who had to soldier on with a dodgy back and a batting order that must have made him weep into his hotel pillow. Who to open with next? Should it be Watto? Should it be Davo? Does it matter?

Shepherding them in the general direction of victory this week was, then, an eyebrow-agitating feat. And then it rained.

Watching desperate cricketers watching the rain with a prayer on their lips is always moving, and reminds us of a chapter from the apocryphal Book of Geoffrey. Noah's sons Shem, Ham and Japheth were playing cricket when the floods arrived with Shem just five runs short of victory. For a few hours he sat mournfully by the Ark window, occasionally suggesting to his brothers that it was "brightening up a bit over there", but after the third day and third night of rain, he had to shake hands on a draw.

"Rain stopped play" used to be the natural order of things in these parts. In fact, it was normal for entire series to be blighted by the damp stuff. Rain was always there, a sheltering, welcoming umbrella that captains could always rely upon if their team was threatened with defeat. The 1964 Ashes series was typical. It finished Rain 3, Australia 1, England 0. Coincidentally, Playfair had this to say about the Australians of '64:

"Australia came here, described by some as the weakest Australian party ever to come to England. They certainly vindicated themselves."

I can't avoid thinking that this summer's goings-on haven't helped the cause of Test cricket. We've had a Decision Review System that needs its own Decision Review System; health-and-safety-compliant umpires who rope off fast bowlers and make them wear fluorescent jackets the moment the sun goes behind the clouds; an insistence on the full 40-minute lunch break when a torrential downpour is due in about, er, 40 minutes; a series that's over just when it was getting interesting; and Michael Vaughan trying to flog tea ad nauseam.

Still, England have retained the Ashes. Hooray, etc. Has Suarez signed for Arsenal yet?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here