When it rains, it pours
Such is the hype surrounding Indian cricket that ministers regularly voice their opinion, mostly virulent attacks on the president of the board Sharad Pawar, who also happens to be the federal agriculture minister. However, his colleague in the cabinet, science and technology minister Kapil Sibal, has come up with a constructive suggestion: urging the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to prepare the team's itinerary based on the weather forecasts provided by the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
The idea might have stemmed from the need to ensure maximum playing time, which in turn would result in more ad revenues, and might also go to waste, considering the risks associated with weather forecasts, but the larger issue needs addressing.
Matches in India have been regularly thwarted by inclement weather, none more so than at Chennai where, over the past four years, two Tests, two ODIs and a premier domestic one-day final - all of which were played between October and December - have been disrupted by rain.
Niranjan Shah, the secretary of the BCCI, didn't seem too enthused about taking the IMD's help: "We do normally take the opinion of the Met office while deciding on the itinerary. But tours are planned at least a year in advance. We can't do much about sudden weather changes."
The board has regularly taken refuge in its rotation policy, and the need to decide schedules well in advance, but there must be a way of incorporating the weather patterns into their itineraries. And that doesn't even need the services of the IMD - plain common sense would work just fine.
Since 1995, three of the seven Tests at Chennai have been severely affected - two of these were held in October and the third, the latest one against Sri Lanka in 2005, was staged in December. Two of the other four were played in March, one in January and the other against West Indies in October 2002 - where 105 minutes were lost to rain on the second day but India's spinners ensured it didn't alter the result.
A statistical study of Test match distribution shows how these games could have been slotted at other venues. Of the 207 Tests at home, 51 have been in the month of December but the majority have been staged at Bombay (11), Delhi (15) and Kanpur (7). Chennai, on the other hand, has hosted 17 of its 41 games in the month of January - a fact that allowed many of the Tests to coincide with the festival of Pongal, resulting in a carnival atmosphere. Bizarrely, since 1995 just one Test has been held in January - the nerve-wracking series opener against Pakistan in 1999.
Kolkata also shows a January bias (14 out of 34). On the other hand, venues in northern and western India are better suited to games at the end of the year. Delhi and Kanpur (venues in northern India) have needed to host only three January Tests between them, a fact that can be attributed to the extreme cold and foggy conditions that persist at the time. Delhi has staged 15 of its 28 Tests in December while Mumbai (on the western coast) has hosted 22 of it's 39 Tests in November (11) and December (11).
A study of weather patterns shows that monsoons in India are largely caused by the uplift of air masses that have picked up a significant amount of vapour over the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. The moist parcels are blown inland by southerly winds and the air is forced to rise over the Indian landmass and funneled up by the Ganges Valley. India usually experiences two rainy seasons: the main one is the southwest summer monsoon, which usually arrives in Southern India and Sri Lanka around May 20 before reaching Nagpur in Central India by June 1 and Peshawar in Northern Pakistan by July 1. The northeast (winter) monsoon is experienced mainly in southern India and lasts from October to December.
It's the second kind, one that usually affects Chennai and the rest of the south-eastern coast, which the board overlooked while scheduling the three-match Test series against New Zealand in 1995-96 between mid-October and November, probably the most ill-planned series ever. The board was probably restricted with the timing of the series - since the World Cup was starting in three months' time - but could have chosen more suitable venues than Bangalore, Chennai and Cuttack.
The first Test that ended in under three days, was lucky to get by without any serious interruption (it rained heavily the day after) but the Madras game saw just 71.1 overs being bowled, going down in Indian cricket history as the shortest Test in terms of actual playing time. Ten days later the two teams met in the final match at Cuttack but the monsoon storms sweeping in off the Bay of Bengal cost two full days' play. It was the dampest of squibs, one that could have easily been avoided with one look at the weather patterns.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo