Rain in Sri Lanka leaves players, fans in limbo
There's a saying in Sri Lanka that if you want rain, play a cricket match. But from mid-October to December, this rule does not apply. It is going to rain nonetheless, whether there is cricket scheduled or not. In 2010, West Indies found that out on their tour which began early in November. On that occasion, the rains became progressively worse through the Test series, and the third Test barely saw 100 overs of play across five days in Pallekele. The ODI leg that began a few days later was postponed till the end of January.
It is easy to blame Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) for scheduling another tour during the monsoon, but this time, perhaps, there was little they could have done. In 2012, there was no obvious window in which both sides - New Zealand and Sri Lanka - had nothing in their schedule, bar the few weeks during the IPL. Laying aside SLC's apparent willingness to lower themselves to any ignominy to make a buck, April and May is also a poor time to schedule cricket in Sri Lanka due to the southwest monsoon which begins around then. Aside from that, New Zealand Cricket rely on funds from the IPL to pay their player salaries, and for the smaller boards like these two, playing international cricket during the IPL is a much greater sacrifice than for the ECB or Cricket Australia.
The other option for SLC would have been to schedule more matches in Dambulla, which is in Sri Lanka's dry zone. Why SLC have neglected an asset as valuable as the Dambulla stadium is unfathomable, but again, it may not have made a major difference in this case. The rain-bearing winds that roll into Sri Lanka at this time of the year do not have to cross the central plateau to reach Dambulla because they arrive from the northeast. This means Dambulla stadium does not benefit from the rain shadow effect that is the norm at other times of the year. It may be a little drier than Colombo, but it's hardly cricket weather there either.
So what the boards and the teams have ended up with is a regrettable, but somewhat unavoidable, soggy nightmare of a tour. New Zealand have had one outdoor practice session in six days. Sri Lanka, more than likely, have had none. Both teams traveled to Colombo after the rained out first ODI, but have now returned to Kandy after the second and third ODIs were moved to Pallekele because the R Premadasa Stadium is effectively under water. Thankfully for the players, they did make use of the indoor net facilities in Colombo during their short stay there.
"We haven't played much bat-and-ball cricket in a while, it's just been fitness," Kane Williamson said on the eve of the second ODI. "It's nice to get into an indoor centre. Although it's not on grass, it's nice to hit some balls."
Pallekele has been cloudy, but largely free of rain in the two days preceding the match, but scattered showers are expected for Sunday, so if any cricket is possible, fans and players may be in for a frustrating stop-start day. The pitch at least would have had little chance to dry out in the brief periods of sunshine, and it may not have as much venom as the greentop that was prepared for the Twenty20. The challenge to the players will be to assume a match-day mindset after all the downtime of the past seven days.
"The preparation is not ideal, but it's the same for both teams," Williamson said. "We have to look at it as a small distraction, switch on and turn up mentally for that game. They do cover the whole field, so as soon as it stops raining we could be out there playing, and we need to be switched on for that. It's about trusting your game. Your game can't change that much over three or four days, but those last couple of days of preparations often turn you on mentally. Without that it is an added challenge, but I don't think we need to worry about that too much if we focus on what we can control."
The weather is supposed to improve slightly in time for Tuesday's match, but beyond that, it looks as bleak as ever. The tour then moves to Hambantota, which, thankfully for the locals who had almost eight rainless months this year, has been just as wet as elsewhere in the country, and is predicted to remain that way. The teams might have to keep themselves match-ready, just in case the weather clears, but fans may as well get used watching, reading and hearing more weather updates than cricket scores from the sports reporters on this tour.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka