With three rounds of the 1974 County Championship remaining, Hampshire, the defending champions, were comfortably placed at the top of the table, three points clear of Worcestershire, who had an identical record but fewer bonus points, with a game in hand.
The advantage was even greater because all three of Hampshire's remaining matches were at home. However, it had been a miserable summer, cold and wet throughout. It was estimated that of the 28 days of Test cricket, only four had been unaffected by the weather.
Hampshire's game in hand was against strugglers Glamorgan at Southampton, and they dominated throughout, forcing the visitors to follow on. But the loss of all but 15 minutes of the second of the three days was too much to overcome, and Glamorgan, 81 for 8 in the second innings and still a long way short of making Hampshire bat again, clung on for a draw. At least the bonus points had extended Hampshire lead to 11 points.
Glamorgan then travelled to Worcester and proved every bit as inept as they had at Southampton, losing by ten wickets. Hampshire, after two days of their game at Bournemouth, looked on course for a win over Somerset, who were 90 for 4, still 51 in arrears. In the Times Alan Gibson suggested that while they had one hand on the trophy, they were "wise to avoid any premature opening of the champagne". It was sound advice. The last day of the match was completely washed out, but Hampshire had done enough to go into the final round of the Championship with a three-point lead.
The weather on the last weekend of August was foul, with storms lashing the country from early on the Saturday morning. Bournemouth's covers were totally inadequate and the first day of the game against Yorkshire was abandoned by lunchtime. At Chelmsford, however, Worcestershire stuck Essex in on a drying pitch and skittled them out for 84. That gave them four vital bonus points, edging them ahead of the long-term leaders.
On the Sunday, the rest day, Hampshire trooped across to Portsmouth and beat Yorkshire in a ten-over John Player League slog. They could only hope that the 24-hour break would have allowed Dean Park to dry out enough for the Championship to start, which would afford them the chance to gain enough bonus points to return to the top of the table.
But early on Monday even more savage storms hit the country. The umpires abandoned play at Bournemouth an hour before the start, so deep were the puddles on the outfield. Nevertheless, against a backdrop of showers and sunshine, the groundstaff there maintained an unrelenting mopping-up exercise. It was the same story at Chelmsford, but Worcestershire were marginally less concerned as they had the one-point lead. So wet was it, there was no play anywhere.
Another gale lashed the south coast on the Monday night, sinking Morning Cloud, the yacht belonging to Edward Heath, the prime minister, with the loss of two lives.
Although the day dawned wet, there was still hope at Bournemouth as the strong wind had helped to dry the ground. In an era before regular updates, a telephone hotline was in operation between the south coast and Chelmsford.
A storm around lunchtime left Chelmsford sodden, and in normal circumstances the match would have been abandoned. But Norman Gifford, Worcestershire's captain, wasn't going anywhere in case Hampshire got their game started and he needed to get his players back in the middle.
At Bournemouth, Richard Gilliatt, Hampshire's captain, and John Hampshire, confusingly Yorkshire's, inspected numerous times and failed to agree on whether play was possible. The decision was left with the umpires, who to the delight of the locals ruled that play would start at 3pm. Yorkshire won the toss and chose to bat. That meant that three wickets for Hampshire would tie the Championship, five would win it.
But the two captains had hardly started walking back to the pavilion from the middle when the heavens opened for the first time in almost four hours, this time terminally as far as Gilliatt was concerned. "It was as though the gods, on no account, were to give Hampshire one last chance of winning," John Woodcock lamented. Salt in the wound came with the news that Hampshire had been fined £1000 for not averaging 18.5 overs an hour over the summer.
In early August, Hampshire had seemingly secured the title with a crushing innings win over Worcestershire, opening up a 31-point lead with five games remaining. But thereafter they were dogged by rain, while their rivals seemed to manage to avoid the worst of it. Five of Hampshire's last eight days' cricket were completely washed out.
"Worcestershire were a good side," Woodcock, the cricket correspondent of the Times, noted. "But not as good as Hampshire." EW Swanton was equally forthright in the Cricketer, writing that "Hampshire [were] deprived of the Championship in a way to which I recall no parallel". He added, probably without his tongue anywhere near his cheek, that they had "appeared home and dry" a month earlier.
The poor weather continued. The following weekend the traditional season finale, the Gillette Cup final at Lord's, was washed out for the first time in its 12-year existence.
In a letter to the Times on September 11, eight days after the Bournemouth washout, CA Piggot of Portsmouth wrote: "Will those protagonists who earlier in the season suggested that we play more county cricket in September and less in May please now stand up? They may exist in Worcestershire but they have been strangely silent in these parts lately."
Thirty-four years later and the season is ending more than three weeks later... in glorious sunshine.
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