As I sat in the press box watching the covers come on for the fifth time during the first West Indies v India ODI in Providence, my thoughts wandered to the summer of 2015, when I watched a baseball game live for the first time. It had rained that night - enough to make me wonder why they continued playing.
It was a hot and dry September in Chicago. Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism had arranged a baseball icebreaker for the incoming journalism graduate students. I have always maintained - and still do - baseball and cricket are too similar for people to love them both at the same time.
"It's an experience. We can get beers, hang out and get to know each other," a classmate had said. Wearily, I agreed.
At 9pm, an hour after the game began, it started to drizzle, even as we stood together higher up in the stands, chatting and eating hotdogs. The game was somewhere around the fifth innings and play continued. Had it been a cricket match, the groundstaff would have rushed to cover the pitch and then placed larger covers over the outfield.
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The umpires nodded at each other at several points. The game continued, the rain stopped after a while, Chicago Cubs won, and we all went home, having learnt a little more about each other. Why didn't they stop play when it started raining? I'd thought that at several points during the game, but it was too loud to nerd-out and compare cricket and baseball rules on rain.
The question kept rearing itself, and during my first week at school, I sat with my sports reporting professor, a big baseball fan, and talked about the rules, comparing cricket and baseball as we always do in America. We spoke about how differently they handled rain. Some rules I remembered, some a friend at ESPN Connecticut, Sachin Chandran, a Guyanese American, helped me recall.
In cricket, the umpires call for the covers when it starts drizzling steadily to protect the pitch and parts of the outfield, in some cases like in Sri Lanka, the entire outfield! In baseball, because the ball isn't pitched, the interpretation is different.
The umpires look at conditions and deem it safe or unsafe depending on a player's ability to grip the ball, their footing on the field, and whether running could increase risks of injuries. Lightning plays a major role too, because fans and players run the risk of thunder and lightning strikes. This was a major issue in Florida when the second T20I between West Indies and India had to be called off (at least there was a winner).
In cricket, the DLS method decides the winner if a target is set and a specific part of the second innings has been played. In baseball, the umpires try to get the game to five innings - or 4.5 if the home team is leading - which would then mean the team that's leading at that point will take the win if rain halts play. And, if they're close to getting a result, the umpires generally let the players play through mild or moderate rain. There's no hard rule with this one - umpires take a judgment call on safety.
And here's a fascinating tidbit: If it starts raining mildly or moderately before the match begins, the home team gets to decide if the game starts on time or if it's going to be delayed. (This could never be a thing in cricket - it would put way too much power in the hands of the home team). The logic here is that the home team knows the conditions and the environment best. Delays cost money, so they don't use that power lightly.
And, if there's heavy rain forecast, they have the power to call off the game way before it begins so as to not upset fans. Last-minute cancellations causes chaos with sold tickets and offended fans. The power moves to the umpires only once the game is about to begin or has already begun.
So, then, what happens if the match is called off due to rain and there's no result? Most of the time in cricket, unless it's a knockout World Cup game or a tournament final, it's just abandoned and nobody thinks twice about it. In baseball - particularly in Major League Baseball - it is much more thorough (and comprehensive, in my humble opinion). If the baseball game is abandoned before it starts or becomes official, they play a make-up game on a common off day. Sometimes it so happens that the two teams are scheduled to face each other the next day - in that case, they make it a double-header and play two games in one day. Alternatively, if they are scheduled to meet later in the season, there's the flexibility to stage the double-header then. If there's a possibility that the result won't impact the standings, the two teams sometimes decide to do away with the make-up game, although it happens rarely.
In cricket, though, such things aren't welcome, because they are bound to be rigid. We've got rules that sometimes state play can't go beyond 6pm on days when the forecast is for clear weather at the time. We've also got rules that don't permit the use of floodlights even if the facility is available, with players going off for "bad light".
Anyway, the broader point is that timing plays a key role. In baseball, three-and-a-half hours, and you're done. They can afford a double-header. In cricket, unless it's a T20, doubleheaders are out of question.
People who follow sport in America love results. I've attracted befuddled stares when I say there could be five days of play in cricket, with the game ending in a draw. Unfathomable to many. So why not revise the DLS rules and have a reserve day for short formats, at least? More work for players, certainly a little more work for journalists, and everyone's happy.