How the day (didn't) unfold - live drip-by-drip commentary from Edgbaston
The ECB have added an additional reserve day for T20 Blast Finals Day, after a washout on Saturday and with the weather forecast threatening to force a bowl-out in the Edgbaston indoor school on Sunday.
After persistent rain in Birmingham, umpires Mike Burns and Alex Wharf pulled the plug at 6pm with all four semi-finalists practising for bowl-outs at the end of indoor training sessions on Saturday. But after a meeting between the four teams, the ECB board, Edgbaston and broadcasters, it was decided that Wednesday, October 7 would be earmarked as an additional reserve day.
The weather forecast for Sunday suggests that it may be possible to play all three games in the afternoon - admittedly with a significant reduction in the number of overs - and the reserve day will only be used if it is impossible to complete the first semi-final. If the first semi-final is completed, then the threat of a bowl-out in the second semi and the final will continue to loom, with the ECB still hoping to finish the competition on one day.
"We will do everything possible to play three matches tomorrow, each of a minimum of five overs per innings, to complete the competition," an ECB statement read. "We are committed to trying to ensure that the competition is completed on-field. As such, if we are unable to complete the first semi-final, Finals Day will be re-scheduled for October 7 at Edgbaston for which there will be no reserve day."
This is the first time that Finals Day has been a total washout, and there is some consolation in the fact it happened in the first year that this day has been staged without fans. Once a mid-summer frolic, Finals Day has been pushed further and further back in the calendar in the last four years, with last year's staged in the final week of September.
The ECB rightly pushed the date into October in the hope that fans would be able to attend, but with Covid-19 cases on the rise and the government's return-to-stadia plans scrapped, the result of a well-intentioned decision was this: the dampest of squibs, without so much as a beer snake or a conga to liven things up.
There had been a genuine fear that the semi-finals and final would all be decided indoors via three bowl-outs, and the prospect is still on the table if the rain returns soon after Surrey's game against Gloucestershire tomorrow.
The format is relatively simple: five players are nominated from each side, with any player registered by their county eligible to compete (unless the match has already started). They each take two turns at hitting a set of stumps, with the team that does so more being declared winners, with sudden death to follow in the event of a tie.
Two bowl-outs have been staged previously in the Blast - or the Twenty20 Cup, as it was then - with both coming at the quarter-final stage: in 2005, Tim Murtagh famously wheeled away whirling his shirt round his head as Surrey shaded Warwickshire after a tie in the days before Super Overs, and four years later Somerset beat Lancashire 5-1 following two days of rain.
It is a relief that the competition is likely to be played to its conclusion on the field, even if games are reduced by rain. For Gloucestershire, who last reached this stage in 2007 and whose squad are all Finals Day debutants, it would have been a particularly cruel exit to lose by virtue of hitting the stumps fewer times than their opponents, and while there is an element of randomness in shortened games, they at least resemble a proper match in a way that bowl-outs do not.
"We're hopeful to get something in," said Jack Taylor, Gloucestershire's captain. "We've been pretty chilled out, watching the IPL and playing cards. We're going to be ready whether it's for 20 overs, 10, 5 or a bowl-out. Hopefully we'll get as long a game in as possible. We haven't been here for 13 years so it would have been nice to get a full day in but you can't control the weather."
Saturday was a long, drab day in which there was never any realistic prospect of cricket being played. There were vague signs of promise when the mascots - wearing facemasks over their novelty heads - declared it dry enough to sit out in the stands, and when the rain briefly relented at lunchtime a smattering of groundstaff came out to start the most daunting of clean-up operations. But there was almost no activity on the covers from then onwards as the rain persisted, and it was an act of mercy when play was eventually abandoned.