England v India, 4th Investec Test, Old Trafford, 2nd day August 8, 2014

'Extreme' downpour swamps Old Trafford

  shares 17

Play 01:58
Rain ruins play on day two at Old Trafford

Just a day after the Old Trafford authorities were being praised for producing the best pitch of the international summer in England, boos rang out around the ground.

The source of the crowd's frustration was understandable: a sharp but relatively short shower had not just interrupted play, but caused an abandonment. What promised to be another exciting afternoon of cricket instead became an ever more farcical succession of inspections and further delays.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can probably conclude now that play should have been abandoned as early as 4pm. By then, a ground that had taken some heavy rain over the previous weekend had experienced an unusually brutal downpour that left standing water all over the outfield. It started at around 2.15pm and ended, after flirting with spectators for a while, at about 3.40pm.

But, with the best of intentions, the groundstaff and the umpires decided to do what they could to restart play. A few years ago, such a deluge would have ended play for the day without anyone batting an eyelid, but expectations have changed significantly. New sand-based outfields and drainage systems have vastly reduced delays after rain and there is, however it may seem, more respect for spectators than was once the case.

More than that, the desperation to make a success of hosting such major games, results in grounds taking risks and short-term decisions.

Again, with the benefit of hindsight, the groundstaff might have been well advised to simply allow the drainage the time to do its work. But, understandably, they felt a need not just to help nature on its way, but to be seen to be helping nature on its way.

So out came the super-soppers - the tractor-like devices that soak up water from the outfield - and they went to work at the Brian Statham End, in particular, which is the lowest part of the ground and where the puddles were at their deepest.

That was probably a mistake. For, after a weekend when Lancashire were forced to take similar action to ensure a NatWest Blast T20 quarter-final was able to take place on the ground - the match was scheduled for Friday, but eventually took place on Saturday evening - the area was already boggy and damaged. The further usage of relatively heavy machinery may have removed some excess water, but it also churned up the area to such an extent that it began to resemble a field of cabbages more than a cricket outfield.

In truth, the soppers are largely cosmetic devices and are used as much as public-relations ploys as they are for practical purposes. Certainly in circumstances like this, they tend to present as many problems as they do solutions. The outfield just became worse and worse and an area stretching around five metres into the playing surface at that entire end of the ground became genuinely unplayable. While cricket remains a little indulgent of such matters - talk that such conditions are "dangerous" is not helpful - it would have been farcical to try and play international sport in such circumstances. Eventually, play was abandoned at 5.40pm.

It does not mean the ground's drainage is inadequate for the longer term. Lancashire installed a similar drainage scheme to most of the major grounds in England in 2008. Only Lord's, with its greater income and incomparable business model, was able to afford a more effective system.

But, at the end of last year, the club was obliged to pull down two new stands - the stands either side of the media centre at the Brian Statham End - and rebuild them, which appears to have created a temporary area of weakness.

While the stands were being built, in 2012, one of the contractors, Sabre Structures Ltd, went into administration. That caused a delay that could have rendered the stands unfinished ahead of the 2013 season and the lucrative Ashes Test, so the club installed support columns as an intermediate measure to allow the stands to be used and enable the ground to host the international cricket that is so vital to its future.

These support columns resulted in an obstructed view for some spectators, however, and were always viewed as a temporary solution. So, after the Ashes Test, the club strengthen the tiers with the installation of additional structural steel which allowed the removal of the support columns.

The problem with that, though, was that it resulted in a significant amount of heavy machinery on the outfield at that end of the ground. As a result, the grass had to be re-laid at the start of this summer and it has not knitted as well as it has done in other areas of the ground. That weakness was exploited by the ferocity of the recent rain.

Talk that the incident could jeopardise the ground's future as a venue for major matches is hyperbole, though. The pitch at Old Trafford has actually put some of those at other venues to shame and, while the episode is not ideal, talk of denying them future games seems harsh in the extreme.

There is a fear, however, that the boggy areas - and they really are in very poor condition - might render play difficult on day three, even if Manchester enjoys a dry night.

Afterwards Mike Watkinson, the Lancashire director of cricket, apologised, but insisted the circumstances were extreme. "We apologise if people feel let down, but these are extreme circumstances," Watkinson told the BBC. "It was an extremely heavy downpour and most grounds would have struggled.

"We've had a massive downpour and water has congregated in the low point of the ground. It's an area that we have used for construction purposes. It has high-performing drains. What it hasn't got is turf that has knitted together over seasons like the rest of the field. It's quite a new area.

"If we have got anything wrong, it was to go with the water hog instead of letting it drain naturally. You can understand our groundstaff being as proactive as possible. It looks a bit of a mess. We accept that. Last Friday evening we were under water for a Twenty20 game. But there is no reason at all it won't dry out over night.

"You would hope it is not held against us [when allocating future major matches].You hope that people look at the cricket has been played so far in this game, the quality of the pitch, the way its produced some great bowling and good batting.

"There has been entertaining cricket with a real momentum and better players have prospered. I hope they have not been bothered about five metres of a sandy puddle that has affected an hour's cricket."

In a perfect world, grounds might not host international cricket until they are finished and tested and perfect. But in the real world, the club's need to finance their redevelopment schemes and they need to host regular international cricket to do so. While that is the case - and the ECB could implement a better system with a little thought - teething problems like this are probably inevitable.

It is not a scandal. There is nobody deserving of blame or shame. It does not merit the sobriquet "watergate" however tempting it might be to use it. It was just bad luck. Lancashire experienced a perfect storm: it rained very hard on an area of weak ground and, for all the goodwill in the world - perhaps partly because of all that goodwill - it wasn't possible to restart play. It's frustrating, but it happens.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY Lion_96 on | August 9, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    why do indian fans act like ours is flat and theirs is not? Remember Ganguly describing the Rajkot wicket in the first test, as a highway.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | August 9, 2014, 9:06 GMT

    India still believes in luck after a worst performance

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 8:35 GMT

    @SamRoy. on a lighter note. Cover or uncovered, any how Sri Lankan pitches are flat and result in mountains of runs!!!

  • POSTED BY android_user on | August 9, 2014, 7:57 GMT

    i want india win this test match..but its not easy for india.. england easly defeat india this test match also

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 6:59 GMT

    This isn't nearly as reactionary as I want, I'm going to listen to someone who shouts more and is more vitriolic. Don't come here with your facts and truth and calm demeanour. I want heads on pikes!!!!!!!!

  • POSTED BY SamRoy on | August 9, 2014, 6:13 GMT

    I guess England can learn a bit from Sri Lanka in this regard (as well can all other cricket playing countries). Sri Lanka covers the entire ground with covers and no water ever collects anywhere in the playing field. And so even after far stronger downpours if the weather clears up in Sri Lanka play can start there. Modern technology like super soppers are fine but if they are not helping it is better to use what works best.

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 5:02 GMT

    India needs two more days for washout to draw this test. Honestly I cant see India batting lasting for 3 complete sessions on this pitch. Of the three batsmen who have the technique to play on this Rahane is the only guy in good form . Pujara and Kohli are struggling. Looking at aaron I wonder what an attack of aaron,umesh,bhuvi and the spin of ashwin with 6 batsmen would have looked like. India has learn to go for horses for courses selection.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | August 9, 2014, 3:44 GMT

    england cannot beat India this time

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 3:34 GMT

    England will still win in 3 days...lol

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 3:27 GMT

    After a century of cricket, they still have no clue. Umbrellas and Englishmen in the Monsoon.

  • POSTED BY Lion_96 on | August 9, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    why do indian fans act like ours is flat and theirs is not? Remember Ganguly describing the Rajkot wicket in the first test, as a highway.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | August 9, 2014, 9:06 GMT

    India still believes in luck after a worst performance

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 8:35 GMT

    @SamRoy. on a lighter note. Cover or uncovered, any how Sri Lankan pitches are flat and result in mountains of runs!!!

  • POSTED BY android_user on | August 9, 2014, 7:57 GMT

    i want india win this test match..but its not easy for india.. england easly defeat india this test match also

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 6:59 GMT

    This isn't nearly as reactionary as I want, I'm going to listen to someone who shouts more and is more vitriolic. Don't come here with your facts and truth and calm demeanour. I want heads on pikes!!!!!!!!

  • POSTED BY SamRoy on | August 9, 2014, 6:13 GMT

    I guess England can learn a bit from Sri Lanka in this regard (as well can all other cricket playing countries). Sri Lanka covers the entire ground with covers and no water ever collects anywhere in the playing field. And so even after far stronger downpours if the weather clears up in Sri Lanka play can start there. Modern technology like super soppers are fine but if they are not helping it is better to use what works best.

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 5:02 GMT

    India needs two more days for washout to draw this test. Honestly I cant see India batting lasting for 3 complete sessions on this pitch. Of the three batsmen who have the technique to play on this Rahane is the only guy in good form . Pujara and Kohli are struggling. Looking at aaron I wonder what an attack of aaron,umesh,bhuvi and the spin of ashwin with 6 batsmen would have looked like. India has learn to go for horses for courses selection.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | August 9, 2014, 3:44 GMT

    england cannot beat India this time

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 3:34 GMT

    England will still win in 3 days...lol

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 3:27 GMT

    After a century of cricket, they still have no clue. Umbrellas and Englishmen in the Monsoon.

  • POSTED BY Sexysteven on | August 9, 2014, 2:05 GMT

    U can't do much about the weather it's just bad luck I wouldn't hold that against anyone they have to have more test matches at old Trafford it's clearly the best pitch in England and one of the better ones in world cricket atm pace and bounce maybe abit two paced sometimes but there's abit in it for the pace bowlers it will take spin later in the game plus if your a quality batsmen you can score runs on it to me that's the perfect test pitch two decent teams like Aussie and the proteas would love to play on that pitch

  • POSTED BY sudhindranath on | August 8, 2014, 23:53 GMT

    Whoa, are they now saying that there will be time lost on Day 3 because of the rains on Day 2?!

    They didn't explicitly say so, but after reading the article, one must wonder what is the fate of Day 3!

  • POSTED BY dunger.bob on | August 8, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    Drainage systems are a major work for any sporting field and teething problems seem to be fairly common. I agree, it's not scandalous, it's just bad luck. .. hopefully the lessons will be learnt and the ground will as perfect as it can be in a year or two.

  • POSTED BY ifmcd on | August 8, 2014, 22:47 GMT

    Excellent piece.I was at the ground and it was a very heavy downpour that flooded the ground. Ground staff did all they could and there has been a lot of rain in the area in the last week. Pitch is excellent and other clubs need to copy their pitch preparation and pricing of tickets which is the best for non Members of any Test ground. It cost the same for 5 days at OT as for 2 days at Southampton when you include the Aegeas Bowl's tedious Park and Ride

  • POSTED BY R_U_4_REAL_NICK on | August 8, 2014, 22:38 GMT

    You can't always beat the elements. Fans with enough money to pay the extortionate ticket prices surely had the means to check weather forecasts?

  • POSTED BY yorkshirematt on | August 8, 2014, 22:30 GMT

    Clearly there is a problem at that part of the ground, it was exactly the same for the T20 last Friday. Unacceptable for a ground with Test status, especially a ground that gets more rain than anywhere else. Trent Bridge got stick for the pitch and Headingley for the poor turnout, and OT should be treated no differently, despite the fact it seems to be a lot of people's favourite ground for some reason

  • POSTED BY mirandola on | August 8, 2014, 22:08 GMT

    When you're looking at a five-day field sport, rain has always got to be a consideration; there's nothing wrong with this pitch - indeed, it's produced more interesting cricket than most this summer - but they should have gone off much earlier and allowed full covers on. Trying to please the paying public worked in its own disfavour, unfortunately.

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  • POSTED BY mirandola on | August 8, 2014, 22:08 GMT

    When you're looking at a five-day field sport, rain has always got to be a consideration; there's nothing wrong with this pitch - indeed, it's produced more interesting cricket than most this summer - but they should have gone off much earlier and allowed full covers on. Trying to please the paying public worked in its own disfavour, unfortunately.

  • POSTED BY yorkshirematt on | August 8, 2014, 22:30 GMT

    Clearly there is a problem at that part of the ground, it was exactly the same for the T20 last Friday. Unacceptable for a ground with Test status, especially a ground that gets more rain than anywhere else. Trent Bridge got stick for the pitch and Headingley for the poor turnout, and OT should be treated no differently, despite the fact it seems to be a lot of people's favourite ground for some reason

  • POSTED BY R_U_4_REAL_NICK on | August 8, 2014, 22:38 GMT

    You can't always beat the elements. Fans with enough money to pay the extortionate ticket prices surely had the means to check weather forecasts?

  • POSTED BY ifmcd on | August 8, 2014, 22:47 GMT

    Excellent piece.I was at the ground and it was a very heavy downpour that flooded the ground. Ground staff did all they could and there has been a lot of rain in the area in the last week. Pitch is excellent and other clubs need to copy their pitch preparation and pricing of tickets which is the best for non Members of any Test ground. It cost the same for 5 days at OT as for 2 days at Southampton when you include the Aegeas Bowl's tedious Park and Ride

  • POSTED BY dunger.bob on | August 8, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    Drainage systems are a major work for any sporting field and teething problems seem to be fairly common. I agree, it's not scandalous, it's just bad luck. .. hopefully the lessons will be learnt and the ground will as perfect as it can be in a year or two.

  • POSTED BY sudhindranath on | August 8, 2014, 23:53 GMT

    Whoa, are they now saying that there will be time lost on Day 3 because of the rains on Day 2?!

    They didn't explicitly say so, but after reading the article, one must wonder what is the fate of Day 3!

  • POSTED BY Sexysteven on | August 9, 2014, 2:05 GMT

    U can't do much about the weather it's just bad luck I wouldn't hold that against anyone they have to have more test matches at old Trafford it's clearly the best pitch in England and one of the better ones in world cricket atm pace and bounce maybe abit two paced sometimes but there's abit in it for the pace bowlers it will take spin later in the game plus if your a quality batsmen you can score runs on it to me that's the perfect test pitch two decent teams like Aussie and the proteas would love to play on that pitch

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 3:27 GMT

    After a century of cricket, they still have no clue. Umbrellas and Englishmen in the Monsoon.

  • POSTED BY on | August 9, 2014, 3:34 GMT

    England will still win in 3 days...lol

  • POSTED BY android_user on | August 9, 2014, 3:44 GMT

    england cannot beat India this time