And the rain came steadily down
Tap-tap, tap-tap. The rain drummed on the roof of the Thwaites beer marquee on the Saturday morning at Old Trafford, a sound not exactly unusual at this wettest of English Test grounds. But the other noise certainly was. A troup of jesters, fancy-dress Brian Johnstons and morris dancers, packed into the tent like matches in a box, belted out The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun" in happy anticipation of play starting.
It was the Australians who were content for the rainclouds to stay moored over Old Trafford. Like barrage balloons they provided Australia with protection and some chance of escaping without defeat. How the tables had been turned. In the days when their team were clinging on for scratchy draws, it was England's supporters who welcomed rain.
And often at Old Trafford they got it. More days per Test have been lost here than at any other English Test venue. Two Ashes matches, 1890 and 1938, were rained off completely. But it is now one of the quickest draining of fields and the groundstaff are well prepared. The super soppers sopped and the field was ready within minutes of the persistent rain stopping at 3pm.
There was some cricket played in the morning. Behind the Brian Statham Stand a chain-gang of a dozen convicts in black-and-white-striped uniforms and caps bowled at a traffic cone. The projectile was the ball from a plastic leg-iron, the bat a sponsors' umbrella. Unfortunate passing Aussies were press-ganged into batting and lined up before the cone and a baying crowd of about 100. After a few pints of lager the convicts' line and length didn't quite match Flintoff's let alone Statham's. The Aussie batsmen proved more successful than their countrymen on the main field.
In mid-afternoon the sky - marbled white and grey above the red-brick pavilion - revealed some patches of blue. The fancy-dress boys got their wish and play resumed but not for long. Thirty-two minutes later the heavens closed in again. The stands sprouted umbrellas like multi-coloured toadstools and the England supporters once again began their unaccustomed reverse rain-dance.
Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer