England v West Indies, 4th Test, Chester-le-Street June 15, 2007

Raining on Durham's parade



Another curtailed Test for Durham © Getty Images
Durham didn't deserve this. Their most significant Test yet (West Indies still outdo Zimbabwe and Bangladesh as opposition) has already been cut to a four-day affair and the prospect for further rain looms on the grey horizon. But even in the gloom surrounding Chester-le-Street, the county is a shining example of what can be achieved with ambition and drive.

The Riverside stadium is a stunning location, flanked by Lumley Castle - elegant though slightly spooky, if Shane Watson's testimony is to be believed - and surrounded by gently rolling hills and green countryside. It staged its first first-class match in 1995 as Durham finally found a permanent home after a nomadic existence following their promotion to the County Championship in 1992. Four years later it hosted two World Cup matches, and in 2003 the first Test arrived in the North East as England took on Zimbabwe.

That match would have provided a good quiz question to wile away the time as the rain fell - name the England team. Two players survive to play in 2007 (as and when they get on the field), Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison, but among the other nine there are some curious names.

Richard Johnson made his debut and took 6 for 33, Anthony McGrath played the second of his four Tests and Robert Key was batting in the middle order. But on that occasion, and again in Durham's second Test against Bangladesh in 2005, the sports-loving public didn't get to enjoy five days of cricket. England swept to three-day victories on both occasions (against Bangladesh it was all over an hour into the third day) as their seamers revelled in friendly conditions.

Once again the supporters have lost out, but this time it's because the torrential rain which has swept up the country has stationed itself overhead. It was clear from early in the morning that Durham's big day was going to be a washout. Less than 100 miles south flood warnings are in operation and transport chaos is looming. Global warming? If only, Durham will be thinking.

It was to be a sell-out too. Fifteen thousand people were expected to flock in to watch two local heroes - Harmison and Paul Collingwood - against a West Indies side buoyed by their fighting efforts at Old Trafford. However, today only a handful even bothered making their way to the ground. The ECB will have to fork out £640,000 in refunds, but they are at least insured against these events. Durham will feel the hit in lost catering and merchandising income.

There isn't a Test at The Riverside next year. Instead they host a one-day international and a Twenty20 game, as the venue has to battle with matches a set of up-and-coming grounds - The Rose Bowl, Cardiff and Bristol. Chester-le-Street can compete with any of them on many levels. It was purpose-built so enjoys plenty of space and the opportunity for expansion. But they would have needed a roof to get this match started on time. At least the umpires made the decent, and sensible call, to abandon play even before the scheduled lunch break and let people squelch home.

It is the second complete wash-out of the summer, following on from the third day at Headingley, but England's prospects of taking the series 3-0 have not been terminally hampered. Time can be made up over the next four days and, as at Leeds, conditions will suit the swing bowlers. Neither will West Indies enjoy the biting wind blowing in from the North Sea.

But one West Indian who won't have been too disappointed by the weather is Darren Sammy, who has been given an extra day to shake off the groin injury that has threatened to stall his Test career the match after taking 7 for 66 on debut. Overcast conditions will suit his steady medium pace, but first the weather needs to play its part. Plenty of people will be crossing their fingers tonight.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo