In the wake of sun stopping play at Napier, in this two-part series Arunabha Sengupta recounts unusual interruptions to have occurred in the history of the game. In this episode he deals with the incidents when nature stepped into the scheme of things…..
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Players running off the ground because it has started pelting down, the men in flannels passing harried groundsmen sprinting in the other direction, pulling the covers on to the field.
Or the irritating moments that earlier Saw the two men in white coats conferring about the light and more often than not taking steps to stop the proceedings. Thankfully these discussions have been trumped by technology nowadays, but the anticipation of disappointment remains when the light-meter comes out.
And then there are the streakers, rioters, protesters and all sorts of undesirable human elements. We are all used to such interruptions.
What happened at Napier, with the severe sunshine stopping play, is an aberration. But in no way is it unique. Here are some of the unusual reasons because of which play has been stopped in the history of the game.
Way back in 1938, the county game between Northamptonshire and Sussex at Hastings was suspended because of a scorching sun which proved too dazzling when it reflected off a nearby glass roof.
In 1962-63, it happened at Christchurch. The newly built stand in the stadium had an aluminium front and the southern sun reflecting off this surface made it dangerous for the English and Kiwi cricketers to engage in a game involving a travelling ball.
The following English summer, in 1963, a game between Essex and Derbyshire had to be held up for 15 minutes because the sun was reflecting off the windshields of cars belonging to the cricketers themselves. The players had to move the offending vehicles before the game could be continued.
In 1995, at Old Trafford, England were playing West Indies when, 20 minutes before tea on the first day the sun reflected off a nearby greenhouse, disturbing the batsmen. Umpire Dickie Bird had already stopped play once that day, having dropped his counters and looking for them on his hands and knees, crying out something known to everyone in the cricketing fraternity for long: “I’ve lost me marbles.” Now, with the light proving a menace, Bird consulted his colleague Cyril Mitchley and called for an early tea. (Incidentally, on day two, early tea was taken due to rain and there was bad light prompting premature end of the day’s play. And on day four, streakers, both male and female, held up play in spurts. It was one hell of a Test match.)
Then in 1996, the first one-day international (ODI) between Pakistan and New Zealand at Gujranwala was delayed due to a similar reason. And what the most surprising thing was, the extreme sunlight halted play for a while during winter: December 4, 1996.
The sun can work on its own as well, without the help of such shiny surfaces. As it did in Napier today.
It has happened on two other occasions in Napier in recent times.
In January, 2017, the T20I game between New Zealand and Bangladesh was held up because of sunlight.
And just last week, the Central Districts versus Canterbury game was interrupted due to the same reason. It is quite apparent that the light gets difficult to deal with as it approaches evening in these parts.
However, there are other instances as well.
In 1988 when Surrey played Gloucestershire at Cheltenham. 6.4 overs were still to be bowled on the second day when the sun, low but persevering, blinded the players.
When Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis presented their paper on revision of targets in interrupted limited overs matches, they called it ‘Fair Result in Foul Weather’. By ‘foul’ they did mean rain, bad light, storm and so forth. However, I doubt whether the two gentlemen had any inkling that their method would also be used because of intense sunshine.
During the Provident Trophy semi-final in 2007, once again in Derby, the Yorkshiremen had put up 253 in their 50 overs. While chasing, the Derbyshire batsmen complained that the white ball was impossible to see because of the extreme sun. The play was held up for 45 minutes, and when the match restarted Yorkshire won by 39 runs using the Duckworth-Lewis method.
However, the sun can also provide reasons to stop play without shiny surfaces and light being too bright. In 1979-80, the Golden Jubilee Test Match between England and India at Bombay needed alteration to schedule. Instead of the usual third, as was the custom in that era, the second day was declared a rest day. That was because of a solar eclipse, with there being the risk of spectators and cricketers looking skywards during this phenomenon.
At the other extreme is snow. If stoppage due to sunlight jars with a game that lends itself to the poetry of white-clad cricketers enjoying days in the sun, so does the unusual phenomenon of snow in what is known to be a summer game. Of course, cricket is also played in the winter in some countries, but that is precisely because those are places known to be hot and sultry.
But on June 3, 1909, the Sussex-Gloucestershire game at Bristol was stopped by a heavy snowstorm.
At Buxton, on June 2, 1975, the Derbyshire and Lancashire game was interrupted due to heavy snowfall that amounted to an inch thick white blanket on the wicket. The umpires out on pitch inspection, Bird one of them yet again, found snow up to their boots and Clive Lloyd threw a snowball at Farokh Engineer. When play was resumed on the third morning, the vagaries in the pitch due to this unusual ingredient saw Derbyshire bowled out for 42 and 87, resulting in a loss by an innings and 348 runs.
And as recently as on April 26, 2016, snowfall at The Oval disrupted Day Three of the county game between Surrey and Somerset.
There was also ice, but of strange and unidentified origin. As Yorkshire played Gloucestershire at Sheffield in 1953, strips of ice 5 inches long began to fall on the field. It was supposed to be from a passing aircraft and as players were forced to shield their heads, Wisden called it ‘an astonishing phenomenon’.
Now, this is quite a common reason for delayed starts. Fog holds up play not only on seaside grounds but also in places hundreds of kilometres from the sea, such as Eden Gardens. However, there have been some unusual incidents nevertheless.
In 1939, when Yorkshire played Sussex in Scarborough, the match commenced in spite of a dense layer of the thickest of fogs. According to Len Hutton, not a man given to exaggeration, the spectators realised that cricket was being played only after a ball struck the fence. As far as the players were concerned, the occasional applause reminded them that behind the white fumes there were indeed some spectators who had come to see the game.
However, it was better than the fate suffered by the Charlton goalie in 1937 at Stamford Bridge. The game between Chelsea and Charlton was called off after 61 minutes because of fog, and the Charlton custodian, Sam Bartram, stood there for a quarter of an hour blissfully imagining that his side had pinned Chelsea in their own half.
Throughout the 1960s, the tours of South African sporting teams faced numerous interruptions due to the anti-apartheid protesters. Some rugby matches were held up because enterprising activists ran into the field, cuffed themselves to the goal-posts and threw away the key.
However, in 1963-64, it was nature who played the spoilsport. At Hobart, as the visiting Springboks played a Combined XI, the wind proved too strong for a normal game of cricket. Trevor Goddard, the South African captain, appealed to the umpires and play was suspended.
Yes, a cricket match was indeed stopped due to intense heat. London can sometimes get too muggy. In July 1868, the same year that saw the tour of the Aboriginal cricketers to England, the game between Surrey and Lancashire at The Oval was stopped for an hour after lunch because of excessive heat.
You were expecting this by now, weren’t you? Yes, cold has stopped play occasionally.
In 1903, the Gentlemen vs Players fixture at Hastings was held up by intense cold. There was also plenty of rain in that match, and although George Hirst scored a whirlwind 124 there was hardly time to complete two innings.
In 1965, at Edgbaston, the Test between England and New Zealand witnessed extreme cold, but the organisers were wise enough to battle the conditions by serving coffee during play. That ensured that the match could be continued.
In April 1981, however, on Day Three at Fenners, the Essex vs Cambridge match had to be halted when even three layers of sweaters did not prove enough to keep the contestants warm.
In 1954-55, Eastern Province and Rhodesia were locked in battle at Bulawayo, when the scorers’ box became a mass of smoke. Sparks were produced from electrical equipment struck by lightning and several fielders threw themselves on the ground.
In 1975, Essex were facing Northamptonshire at Northampton when the edgy weather and fear of lightning took the players off the ground.
Lord Tennyson’s XI were playing India in the first unofficial ‘Test’ of the 1937-38 series at Lahore when tremors shook the ground. The crowd rushed into the ground and the pavilion clock fell with a bang. Tennyson, standing in the slips, thought he had a touch of the sun when the buildings around the ground started quivering. It was quite a severe earthquake, but the players escaped unscathed.
There were two storms in the desert that evening. The natural phenomenon held up play for 15 minutes and docked four overs from the India-Australia encounter. The esoteric one oozed from the bat of Sachin Tendulkar. Yes, it was during that famous year of 1998.