Snow, sun, plague and eclipse
A number of this week's Twenty20 Cup matches have been rained off, with severe and unseasonal flooding in some parts of England. Worcester's New Road is under two feet of water. A while back we looked at XI instances where animals had stopped play ...this week we examine more unusual stoppages.
Although cricket is supposedly a summer game, the seasons have stretched to the extent that matches now take place at times of the year where the weather is unpredictable. There have been many instances of snow stopping play, but none as late as was the case at Buxton on June 2, 1975 where the second day's play in the Championship match between Derbyshire and Lancashire was abandoned. Conditions had cleared the next morning when, on a pitch described as "vicious" Derbyshire were bowled out for 42 and 87, losing by an innings and 348 runs. Three days later the World Cup began in blistering heat, and from then on the summer was a scorcher. There has been snow even later in the season - on July 11, 1888, snow fell across England.
Swarms of insects are a regular hazard for cricket matches. In a match between Cranleigh School and Epsom College in the scorching summer of 1976, the players were forced to leave the field as they been covered from head to toe ... by ladybirds. In August 1979 at Scarborough, play in the John Player League game between Yorkshire and Middlesex was constantly interrupted by swarms of greenfly, causing a reduction in the number of overs. Some players combatted the problem by wearing handkerchiefs across their faces.
On the third day of Essex's match at Fenners on April 24, 1981, the umpires took the players from the field because of the biting cold that made the ball all but impossible to grip. Movement was hampered by everyone wearing several layers of sweaters, and it was so cold that Cambridge University's captain, Derek Pringle, could not see because his eyes were streaming so much - he still made 66. The problem was caused by a freezing south-easterly wind and the umpires invoked a new Law (included in the 1980 code) which allowed them to stop play in "extreme conditions". To everyone's relief, rain washed the day's play out after an early lunch.
Sometimes it can get too hot. On Friday, July 18, 1868 the game between Surrey and Hampshire at The Oval was suspended because the umpires felt the intense heat was detrimental to the players' health. A letter in The Times said the temperature was 93 degrees in the shade - it was still 72 degrees at 10.00pm.
The day-night match between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire at Derby's County Ground was delayed for an hour because the sun was setting directly in line with the pitch. "You couldn't see anything," explained Nottinghamshire's Graeme Swann, who bowled the last over before the stoppage. "If the guy had hit it back at me then it would have hit me in the face. So we went off and listened to some crazy tunes on the radio and watched the X-Factor." Eventually common sense prevailed and Derbyshire now have dispensation to start matches later so that the innings break coincides with sunset. The first game under the new arrangements was rained off.
The rest day in the Jubilee Test between India and England at Bombay in February 1980 was brought forward to what would have been the second day of the match because the Indian board, in agreement with England, did not want the responsibility of a crowd of more than 50,000 damaging their eyes by looking at the sun when an 87% solar eclipse began. "It was an anticlimax," wrote Bob Willis. "The sky only slightly darkened mid-afternoon." Some matches in the UK had delayed starts on August 11, 1999 when there was an eclipse in the morning.
Sadly, the threat of terrorism haunts all major sporting events, but the first time that a bomb threat halted a match was at Lord's in 1973 when an IRA warning led to play being suspended for two hours while the stands were searched. In those more innocent times, rather than evacuate the ground, thousands of spectators spilled onto the pitch and basked in the August sunshine while Dickie Bird, the umpire, remained in the middle, perched on the covers to ensure that nobody tried to get at the pitch. "I knew the safest place was sitting on them," Bird explained, "as I knew there was no bomb under there." The players also stayed out there, chatting with the crowd. At the time the IRA threat was a real one - there had been 27 incidents in the previous week including a bomb at the Stock Exchange.
The usual traditional Thursday start to a Test in England was brought forward by 24 hours in June 1970 to allow for the general election. There was then a second rest day on the Sunday (as was always the case). The match, between England and Rest of the World, was marketed as a Test at the time but was stripped of its status by the ICC three years later.
Not of players, but off the pitch. News of the death of King George VI on February 6, 1952 reached Madras at tea on the first day of the final Test between India and England. Flags were lowered to half-mast but play continued. Discussions between the England management and the Indian board that evening ended in agreement that the next day's play would be cancelled as a mark of respect. The NatWest Trophy final between Essex and Warwickshire at Lord's on September 6, 1997 was postponed by 24 hours because it clashed with the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Many tours have been cancelled because of politics - for example, England's tours to South Africa in 1968-69 and India two decades later - but the abandonment of the Guyana Test in 1980-81 was an oddity in that the rest of England's tour was played as scheduled. The issue was Robin Jackman, a late call-up to the squad, who had playing links to apartheid South Africa. The Guyanese government, citing the Gleneagles agreement, refused to grant him an entry visa. England refused to play if restrictions were imposed and left.
Of course, it had to be Bird, the king of the stoppage, who was involved in a delay in a Test between England and West Indies at Headingley in 1988. But for once the source of the problem came not from above, but from below. Despite heavy rain on the eve of the match, play started on time and for four balls, bowled by Curtly Ambrose to Graham Gooch, all was well. But then Ambrose summoned Bird to a point halfway down his run-up where water was oozing over his boots. As the players trooped off in sunshine, Bird was barracked by the crowd and testily gave back as good as he got. After some digging by baffled groundstaff, it emerged that a drain had burst. Running repairs, and copious amounts of sawdust, followed and eventually play resumed almost three hours later.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo