The last day of the third Test was evenly poised: Australia 225 for 3 chasing a then-record 420 to win the series and so retain the Ashes. But when the groundsman pulled back the covers early in the morning he found that the pitch had been vandalised overnight. Protesters campaigning for the release of George Davis, a convicted robber, had dug holes and poured in engine oil. Both captains agreed the game could not continue, but in the event it rained all day so the match would have been drawn anyway. Davis was freed the following year but soon back in prison after being caught red-handed.
The whole series, hastily arranged to replace England's cancelled tour of South Africa, had been played against a backdrop of escalating unrest, and by the time the teams reached Karachi things had got very unpleasant. Things boiled over on the third morning when a mob broke down the gates, stormed the ground, tore up the stumps, vandalised the pitch and attacked the stands. During one invasion Tom Graveney struck two intruders on their backsides with his bat. "They were the two best strokes I made on the whole tour," he admitted. The England squad headed straight to the airport and had left Pakistan by the same evening.
Midway through a frenetic tour, with an itinerary agreed by someone who appeared never to have studied a map of India, the two teams flew to Jamshedpur to play the third ODI; only, their kit, which had been sent by road, didn't. As the Australians warmed up in t-shirts and shorts, the announcement of a long delay promoted a fusillade of stones and bottles from the 15,000 spectators. Eventually a compromise of a 24-overs-a-side match, primarily aimed at preventing further trouble, was agreed. The kit eventually arrived two hours late, but three overs into the game it started raining and a thoroughly unsatisfactory day came to a damp end.
Concerns had been raised about the state of the Sabina Park pitch in the build-up to the opening Test of the series, with it being described as resembling a corrugated roof. Any hopes that it might play better than it looked disappeared in the first over, and as the end of the first hour approached, England were 17 for 3 and the man who had spent the most time in the middle was team physio Wayne Morton. The captains, Mike Atherton and Brian Lara, got together pitchside with the officials and the decision was taken to abandon the Test on safety grounds. "The pitch was dangerous and the safety of the players was paramount," said Atherton.
Five weeks before the Sabina Park farce, the Christmas Day ODI between India and Sri Lanka lasted even less time. A row over which pitch to use was at the heart of the mess - India were so unhappy with the one prepared that they asked the groundsman to get a replacement ready, only for the Sri Lankans and the match referee to overrule them. India batted but it was clear to everyone from the off that where the ball pitched had no bearing on what happened to it thereafter. After three overs both captains agreed to abandon the game, but with 25,000 inside the ground, they tactfully opted to play a 25-over exhibition match on an adjoining track. Jaywant Lele, the Indian board secretary, managed to look out of touch and foolish with his post-abandonment assessment. "The match referee was hasty… he should have waited for three more overs," he said, before showing sympathy with the players themselves. "Cricketers are well protected these days with helmets and padding. And anyway, batsmen can get hurt even on good pitches."
A day India will want to forget both on and off the field. Their World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka in Kolkata should have been a day to celebrate, but a dramatic collapse in which seven wickets fell for 22 proved too much for the capacity crowd, who started rioting and setting light to the stands. Match referee Clive Lloyd took the teams from the field and 15 minutes later awarded the match to Sri Lanka. "The authorities - and many home fans - were intensely embarrassed by the trouble," reported Wisden, but not everyone felt so contrite, and the house of Mohammad Azharuddin had to be placed under armed guard.
Despite the inevitability of war, cricket rumbled on until the eve of hostilities. Many sides were short of players who had enlisted, while travel became almost impossible as roads and rail were blocked by evacuees from the big cities and troops moving to their bases. After two days of the increasingly irrelevant Championship matches at Old Trafford (where Surrey had forfeited home advantage because The Oval had been requisitioned by the army) and Leicester, the players took the decision to call time and try to get home.
After a day sitting around waiting for the rain to stop, crossed wires led to someone in the Hampshire dressing room thinking that the game had been abandoned. The team changed and started the journey home. However, at 5.30pm, despite there being no chance of a result, the umpires decided there was time to make a brief attempt to play. Only then did they discover one of the teams had left. Eleven Glamorgan fielders and the two umpires solemnly headed to the middle, stood there for two minutes and then Glamorgan were declared the winners. The MCC subsequently downgraded the result to a draw.
Two-and-a-half years on and the result of this match is still being debated. The whole storm erupted on the fourth afternoon, when umpire Darrell Hair decided that Pakistan were tampering with the ball and docked them five runs. Although play continued until tea, from then on in things rapidly deteriorated and eventually the two umpires headed to the middle, accompanied by the England batsmen, waited a few moments and then removed the bails, ruling that Pakistan had forfeited the game by refusing to play. The events that followed are well documented and the fallout from the game continues even now.
Rain delayed the start of the early-season match at Fenners, and when play did start there the England side, captained by Charles Thornton, lost three wickets in the first hour. But when Thornton was stumped for 27 he went and spoke to the umpires and asked for the pitch to be measured. They agreed, and it was found to be more than a yard too long. After a brief discussion it was decided to abandon the game and start afresh. To John Studd and Walter Wright fell the unusual record of being dismissed twice before lunch.
A unique match in that not only was play abandoned after two of the three scheduled days, but a decision was made to expunge the game in its entirety from the record books. The problem was that between the close on day two and the start on day three, the pitch had seemingly repaired itself. "Some spots which were very noticeable on the Thursday evening had been filled up by the time we arrived," Cloudesley Marsham, Kent's captain, said. Everyone agreed to call the match off, but with a large crowd inside the ground, it was decided to play some sort of game, though few took it remotely seriously. In a fudged investigation that would do some of today's administrators proud, Yorkshire decided nobody was to blame, ruling that "climactic influence" had caused the pitch to "roll out, and to give the players a better wicket than on the previous day".
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa