Cricket grounds must spend on good drainage systems July 27, 2007

Money down the drainage

A good drainage system is a must for every ground, so that cricket can be played and the spectators are happy

Trent Bridge resembled a lake yesterday and it took three supersoppers to make it look like a cricket ground again © AFP

From a spectator's point of view, can there be a greater shame than sitting in an open stadium under blue skies, bathed in lovely sunshine, and watching nothing more than one's heroes having a hit at the nets? The groundstaff at Trent Bridge are hardly to be blamed; it's been an unthinkably wet summer so far and so much water has seeped under the soil that the outfield has been impossible to dry. Much like large parts of England, the cricket ground here resembled a lake yesterday and it took three supersoppers to make it look like a cricket ground again. Even the spectators understood why the players couldn't take the field.

What a contrast it was from the previous week, when it had taken the Lord's groundstaff only a couple of hours to get the ground ready after a deluge. The MCC has invested more than one million pounds in installing a new drainage system and the investment has clearly been worth it.

The subject of indoor stadiums, or at least the option of retractable roofs, occasionally comes up in cricket and during a summer like this it is understandable why. It is unlikely, though, that cricket will take that route in the near future. Partially because it will be financially unviable to build and maintain an indoor stadium solely for cricket; it would need to be a multi-sport facility. But it's also because the elements - the sky, the sun, the humidity, the breeze - are a fundamental part of cricket. The Lord's Test twisted and turned and defied expectations of a batting feast because of the atmospheric conditions. Wet or not, cricket in the English summer would hardly feel the same without the light and shade and drizzle.

It is obvious, though, that cricket must do whatever it can to avoid days such as today. A good-natured crowd at Nottingham bore the delay with patience and understanding. But the game mustn't stretch the indulgence of its primary patrons. Expensive drainage systems must be seen as a necessity, not a luxury.

I remember travelling by taxi to the Brisbane cricket ground on the first morning of the first Test between India and Australia in 2003 and the rain was so heavy that it was impossible to see the car in front. It had been raining all night and since I was jetlagged I even considered turning back. But it stopped raining and, incredibly, play started on time. It was a stop-start day because it rained throughout but never was play held up because of ground conditions.

It was a similar story from Jamaica last year, where the rain was so heavy the night before India and West Indies were due to play their first one-day match that the teams didn't even bother to come to the ground in the morning. An agency correspondent famously filed a report announcing not only the abandonment of that match but predicting a similar fate for the next match, scheduled at the same ground a couple of days later. He perhaps went by precedent: on India's last tour in 2002, the first two one-dayers, also scheduled at Jamaica, had been washed out.

A few minutes later a harried Rahul Dravid was spotted at the team hotel trying to get his team together. He had just been told that the game would start in half an hour. And it did. A significant change had taken place in Jamaica since 2002: as part of the preparation for the World Cup, the drainage system had been overhauled and it included sand-based top soil. An improved drainage facility would be, for the West Indies, an enduring legacy of the otherwise wretched World Cup.

It should become part of the minimum requirements for every Test ground.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine