The Heavy Ball
The perfect rainy day at Test cricket
It's the one where it doesn't rain all that much, but you get soaked anyway and the players hardly come out of the dressing room
Day five of the second Test
between England and New Zealand was a delight for connoisseurs of rain-affected play. A good rain-interrupted day of Test cricket involves spending as much time as possible in a grey, confused land between actually playing and being rained off. It's not about gallons of water falling from the sky and rendering play impossible. It's about sitting there not knowing when play is going to take place or whether you will even see the players at all, but having to wait around anyway.
The perfect rain-affected day of Test cricket goes something like this.
You arrive at the ground under clear blue skies only to learn that heavy overnight rain has left huge puddles on the outfield meaning there will be a pitch inspection about half an hour after the scheduled start of play.
You watch the groundstaff work and can visibly see a difference. The sun is beating down now and play seems guaranteed. However, following the pitch inspection, it seems there are still significant damp patches and another pitch inspection is scheduled for an hour's time.
An hour later, with the advertising hoardings buckling in the heat, the umpires decide the conditions are now acceptable. For some reason "now" means "in 30 minutes' time" and over the course of that time, the clouds roll in and it starts to rain very, very gently. If they were already out, they would stay on. But they are not already out.
It is announced that there is going to be an early lunch due to the inclement weather. Clearly the players are in need of a sit-down after spending the morning sitting down. The lunch break is marked by another spell of perfect sunshine that only subsides when the players finally make their entrance.
At this point, it is best if there is a little bit of cricket - just to remind you what you've been missing. However, it should under no circumstances be entertaining. The ideal would be three or four overs and about seven runs. If anything eventful does happen, it should be the dismissal of your favourite batsman. After about 15 minutes of underwhelming nothingness, during which the crowd will have cheered every leg bye as if it were an announcement of a cure for cancer, the rain will return.
This is now the pattern of the day - long delays, constantly-revised start times and insipid cricket. By the wonders of modern technology, you will by now be a meteorological expert, able to accurately interpret rainfall radar pictures with a single glance. You may also have made or lost money through betting on start times. You will almost certainly be drunk.
You will also be beginning to appreciate the limitations of your attire. Perhaps you have been reminded of the need to apply waterproofing spray to your anorak. Perhaps the person in front has angled their umbrella so that all rain falling within a two-metre radius is being channelled onto your lap. Or maybe the rain has deviously made its way onto your person from the ground upwards, wicking its way up a trailing trouser leg.
Your indefatigable spirit is a credit to the sport. Remember, Test cricket is called that for a reason. It is intended to be a complete physical and psychological test and only those who are well-equipped in every regard will get to see the minimum number of overs required to negate their right to a full refund on their ticket.