Cricket must stop being so precious about weather

Date: December 12, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Bad LightAt the Adelaide Oval yesterday we once again heard commentators bemoaning the fact that the umpires would not resume play after a break because it was lightly drizzling.

It is a protestation heard every cricket season around the globe.

However it is the dismay of the fans that should be more concerning to the authorities than the bleatings of the media.

In a lot of countries attending an international cricket fixture is a costly affair and if you happen to be a family the costs multiply significantly.

Every new stadium built nowadays provides the spectator with a greater level of comfort than its predecessors although in some sub-continental countries the fan experience has not been enhanced greatly over the years.

In the end the more comfortable seat and upgraded toilets are not why the fans are there.

Their primary interest and the driver behind their attendance is the game itself.

Too often the antiquated laws and playing conditions rob them of the pleasure of watching what they paid for.

How often do we hear the comment, “if the players were out there and it was drizzling like this they would not have come off but because it is drizzling play won’t restart”?

It is a case of preciousness.

Nobody is suggesting that play continues when it is bucketing down but surely a group of grown men can cop the odd shower.

Man may argue that the pitch needs to be protected yet up until the mid-to-late 1960s that was not the case.

That was the era when pitches began to be covered.

Prior to that batsmen were asked to bat on what was often called a ‘sticky’ – a wet pitch that is exposed to the sun and as a result becomes tacky.

Many a Test match was played out on such pitches.

In the MCG Test of the 1936-37 Ashes series, on just such a surface, Australia pretty much reversed its batting order in the second innings with numbers 9 and 11 (Bill O’Reilly and Les Fleetwood-Smith) opening the batting.

The idea was to protect the specialist batsmen while the pitch was hardening up.

It paid dividends as a bloke by the name of Bradman came in at number seven and made 270 as Australia rollicked to a 365-run win.

The match was no doubt entertaining although times have changed and a pitch like that is no longer palatable.

Other sports are not alone in aiming for better playing surfaces.

Any fan of Australian Football over the age of 40 will clearly remember the mud heaps and puddles on VFL venues such as Moorabbin, Windy Hill, and at times, even the MCG.

Changes in technology, especially in the area of drainage, have made those sights pretty much the domain of old videotape.

The sport is a better spectacle as a result.

A return to the era of uncovered pitches is something few fans would want but staying out in light rain is not going to change the nature of a pitch too dramatically and if it does, so be it – the fans should come first.

Some will say that a team could receive an unfair advantage depending on the state of the game and when the ‘rain’ arrives.

To counter that I would argue that in places like India a lot of the advantage is gained before the game actually starts.

Losing the toss and batting last on a day four or five pitch over there is a nightmare and more often than not a recipe for defeat.

Others will claim that is likely to make the game more dangerous and provide too greater advantage to the fast bowlers.

That is not really accurate.

In the old days the bowlers most suited by damp wickets were actually the spinners, not the quicks.

Cricket’s sage, Richie Benaud has actually stated that the changes to the playing conditions post the 1960s has actually aided the decline of spin bowling in a place like England as the modest medium pacer on a green pitch is more threatening.

Another area where the fans are robbed is the bad light issue.

Umpires pretty much terminate play when they can see multiple player shadows which indicates that the natural sunlight has been overtaken by artificial light.

Yet, surely the bottom line should be player safety and I have been at many a ground when play has been suspended for bad light where I could never be convinced that the participant’s well-being was really in question.

We keep hearing, rightly, that big sport is big business.

It needs to be remembered by the authorities that it is also entertainment.

And with every year, the number of forms of entertainment for the public is increasing.

Cricket fans, like everyone else, have myriad choices on which to spend their ‘entertainment dollar’.

It is surely the mandate of any sporting body to endeavour to maximise its crowd support.

Cricket jeopardises that by continuing to allow a few drops of rain to fall on a pitch or for the light to be a little dim.

Let’s get out there and let’s sometimes stay out there a bit longer.

It is time to abandon the preciousness.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 11 December 2014