A stormy relationship - cricket under the thumb of the weather, 2000

Summers of the century (1)

Philip Eden

The wettest summers in living memory, according to various Wisdens, were 1903, 1946, 1956 and 1958. Indeed, Norman Preston tried to disarm any possible accusation of repetitiousness or amnesia when reviewing the last of those summers by writing, Cricket in England suffered cruelly from rain in 1958. Two years ago I recorded that 1956 was the wettest season in memory and now I have to state that last summer was even worse.

Curiously, he had forgotten 1954, which he had accurately described at the time as the wettest since 1903, and which was significantly worse than either 1956 or 1958. His predecessor (and father), Hubert Preston, celebrating the successful return of first-class cricket in 1946, added that all this satisfaction was enjoyed in spite of conditions described as the worst ever experienced. He went on to make a comparison both with 1888, when the editor Charles Pardon wrote, June was detestable, July indescribable, and with 1912, when August was lamentable. (There is much to be said for these laconic dismissals of such meteorological unpleasantnesses, which I might recommend to some of my radio and television colleagues.)

In the 1960s, arguably the poorest decade of the 20th century for weather, a stoic acceptance of gloom and dampness seemed to develop, as season after season passed without a single lengthy spell of sunshine and warmth. In fact, there was no warm and sunny summer from 1960 to 1974 inclusive. The 1965 season produced the coldest-ever Test match day in England (and almost certainly worldwide): the second day of the First Test against New Zealand at Edgbaston saw the mercury standing at eight degrees Centigrade (46 degrees Fahrenheit) at lunchtime, the cold accentuated by a nasty, nagging nor' easterly.

Nevertheless, there was some pithy editorial comment about the wretched May of 1967, when 13 of the 51 scheduled Championship matches ending that month reached a conclusion, while five were abandoned without a ball being bowled. And, following the rain-spoilt 1968 Ashes, Jack Fingleton penned a vivid piece entitled Watery Reflections from Australia. Charles Pardon would, no doubt, have had a choice word for that summer-execrable, perhaps. Helping other England supporters to clear the water from the outfield at The Oval following a final-day lunchtime deluge is a particularly fond memory of mine, for it set the scene for Derek Underwood to bowl England to victory at the last gasp.

On the other side of the coin, there have been some seasons of truly outstanding weather. The summers of 1911, 1976, 1989 and 1995 were in a class of their own. But 1901, 1921, 1933, 1947, 1949, 1959, 1975 and 1990 were almost as fine. The last 11 years have been as consistently good as the 1960s were bad.

In 1947, the extraordinary performances of Denis Compton and Bill Edrich could only have been sustained against a backdrop of blue skies, brilliant sunshine and soaring temperatures, culminating in a record-breaking August. Norman Preston described 1959, a year of prolific run-scoring, as a wonderful summer with days on end of glorious sunshine and one in deep contrast to the miserable wet days of several preceding years. In 1975, the warmth and sunshine arrived just in time for the beginning of the first World Cup after surely the most inauspicious of starts that June could ever have had: snow showers fell across the entire country on the morning of June 2, and the second day of the Championship match between Derbyshire and Lancashire at Buxton was abandoned because an inch of snow lay on the ground.

England's hottest Test match weather prevailed at Lord's that year, when 34 degrees Centigrade (93 degrees Fahrenheit) was logged on the fourth day an appropriate temperature for cricket's first-ever streaker. The following summer, 1976, was one of legendary heat and drought, and the West Indians played several matches, including the Leeds Test, in temperatures higher than prevail in Barbados or Jamaica.

Even if we could recall every single summer of the century, the human memory is a fallible instrument, and comparisons are very subjective. Some cricket seasons have been notably dry, but also cool (such as 1961 and 1972); others have been hot, but spoilt by frequent thunderstorms (like 1997). Several damp summers have been preceded by a brilliant May or June (1992), while cold and wet Mays are often forgotten when the rest of the season is fine and warm (1983). The following table shows the best and worst for each meteorological element, averaged from May 1 to August 31.

Warmest (degrees Centigrade)Sunniest (hours of sunshine)Most dry days (out of 123)Driest (millimetres of rain)
23.2 (1976)1,040 (1989)96 (1949)68 (1921)
22.3 (1911)957 (1976)92 (1911)68 (1995)
22.2 (1995)924 (1959)92 (1976)91 (1990)
22.1 (1989)919 (1911)90 (1959)94 (1929)
21.9 (1947)918 (1949)90 (1989)96 (1976)
21.7 (1990)913 (1901)90 (1990)123 (1975)
21.5 (1933)911 (1929)90 (1995)131 (1911)
21.2 (1997)902 (1995)88 (1961)137 (1989)
21.2 (1959)898 (1993)87 (1921)138 (1913)
21.1 (1983)863 (1906)87 (1955)140 (1934)

All figures are averages for England and Wales or for Central England.

Coldest (degrees Centigrade)Gloomiest (hours of sunshine)Fewest dry days (out of 123)Wettest (millimetres of rain)
17.7 (1954)503 (1954)39 (1912)449 (1903)
17.7 (1907)528 (1968)51 (1902)434 (1917)
17.8 (1902)575 (1987)51 (1924)365 (1954)
17.9 (1962)577 (1927)53 (1907)366 (1924)
17.9 (1972)590 (1972)54 (1927)358 (1992)
18.0 (1968)593 (1912)54 (1945)357 (1936)
18.1 (1903)595 (1958)54 (1965)356 (1931)
18.1 (1977)602 (1965)55 (1985)340 (1966)
18.2 (1956)612 (1956)56 (1931)331 (1932)
18.2 (1965)614 (1981)58 (1987)330 (1909)

The summer weather index, introduced in last year's Wisden and explained in this volume on pages 1528-1529, enables us to make an objective comparison using meteorological statistics. The index combines rainfall, temperature and sunshine, averaged across England and Wales, and the figure obtained ranges from zero for the theoretical worst possible summer to 1,000 for the theoretical best. We can now see where those worst summers in living memory fit (incidentally, Pardon's detestable, indescribable 1888 scores an abysmal 389, although 1879 with 309 was even worse) and whether 1976 truly was the best of the century.

19006201910510192054719305871940690
19017071911770192173719314391941538
19024541912429192255919324951942581
19034451913621192359019337101943620
19046141914620192445019346831944587
19055941915626192563119356501945546
19066651916535192653919365011946503
19074651917528192745219375661947718
19086021918627192860119385331948530
19095281919636192969719395351949741

(Note: adjustments have been made to the figures for 1985 and 1989 published in last year's Wisden The war years have been included for the sake of completeness.)

19505991960566197063719805421990746
19515681961650197154419815411991538
19526461962549197251219825641992556
19535511963547197361519836341993573
19543941964620197454319846021994651
19556191965460197571219854931995777
19564791966517197681219865641996663
19575841967568197750619874441997601
19584851968431197853519885071998565
19597261969585197954619897991999637

The best and worst individual cricket seasons were:

BestWorst
812 ( 1976)394 ( 1954)
799 ( 1989)429 ( 1912)
777 ( 1995)431 ( 1968)
770 ( 1911)439 ( 1931)
746 ( 1990)444 ( 1987)
741 ( 1949)445 ( 1903)
737 ( 1921)450 ( 1924)
726 ( 1959)452 ( 1927)
718 ( 1947)454 ( 1902)
712 ( 1975)460 ( 1965)
710 ( 1933)465 ( 1907)
707 ( 1901)479 ( 1956)

The worst decade was clearly the 1960s, averaging 549, and the best was the 1990s, averaging 631. The individual summer of the century was 1976. You think that summers aren't what they used to be? You're right. They're better.

Philip Eden is weather expert for BBC Radio Five Live, and the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. His review of the weather in 1999 is on pages 1528-1529.

© John Wisden & Co