The weather rules the day

County Championship Division 1. Somerset v Surrey. 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th May 2019. Taunton. 

Final day. 18th May – The weather rules the day

Overnight. Surrey 380 and 152 for 5. Somerset 398. Surrey lead by 134 runs with five second innings wickets standing.

A final day which had much in prospect, not least that all four possible results were still very much in play, subsided into one of those frustrating weather-interrupted days where the cricket becomes meaningless in the context of the match and where the weather and conditions, as seen from beyond the boundary at least, seem marginal enough for virtually every decision of the umpires to be the subject of dispute and exasperation among spectators. Even the intervention of Somerset’s brand-new floodlights could not save the day, brightly though they shone. It was too one of those days in which the weather does not help the mood. Mizzle and drizzle rather than straightforward honest rain for the most part and at times Dickensian light to dampen the spirit.

The weather did not conform to the forecast, at least not to the one I relied upon. It did not help my planning, nor that, I suspect, of others who wanted to catch the last day of a tight match but did not want to get wet. The forecast, which had held for some time, was convinced there was every likelihood of rain for the start of play. It persuaded me to take a little more time over the completion of my report of the previous day. When informed by the Somerset website that the umpires and players were making their way out to the middle it was a case of shut down the laptop, pick my cricket bag up and head for the bus stop at the double. The bus, normally reliable when not beset by roadworks, met me at the stop.

Within ten minutes the text arrived. “Rain stopped play.” It was too late. Nothing to be done but make for the ground. I was met by mizzle, sticky and unpleasant but not enough to prevent me from chatting to people still in their seats on Gimblett’s Hill. The mizzle though turned to drizzle and then to light rain. Enough to drive me to the refuge of the covered seating at the top of the Somerset Stand. There had been enough cricket in my absence for Surrey to add 35 runs to their overnight score, Hildreth to misjudge a slip catch and the prospects of a Somerset victory to be that much more distant. The rain was never heavy enough to suggest cricket would not resume at some point but reluctant to stop sufficiently for the umpires to re-emerge, and the sky never stopped threatening. The Stragglers, and I imagine the County Room, did a good, if chatter-filled, trade and a few of us braved such spots of rain as remained to discuss anything and everything cricket.

Once the rain actually stopped the umpires raised hope by appearing to inspect the wicket. A brisk walk back to the Pavilion suggested a decision had been made although one of the umpires brushing his hand across the grass and shaking water off it as he pulled it away did not raise confidence. A decision had been made. Another inspection in half an hour’s time. That put paid to all but a few calculations through which Somerset could bowl Surrey out and score enough runs quickly enough to win the match, and even then five Surrey wickets would have to fall very quickly. The next inspection produced another and only after that was it announced that play would resume at 2.15. Some thought the umpires were being unduly tardy although water spraying up from the tractor-driven brush suggested they were nearer the reality of the situation than those of us looking on from beyond the boundary.

When the resumption finally came the play was watched by about two hundred or so people, at least that was my estimate of the numbers actually sitting in the stands. When Groenewald induced Morkel to top edge towards cover Abell momentarily raised hope as he dived towards the oncoming ball but it fell a foot or so short of him and the anticipation dissolved into a sigh. Another four overs had been swallowed by Surrey when Morkel skied Leach three-quarters of the way to the Colin Atkinson boundary from where Overton ran in and took the catch as comfortably as any catch can be taken. Cheers. Elgar, having recovered his health sufficiently to at least come to the wicket, joined Jacks who was promptly out lbw to Overton. A calculation after a look at the scoreboard showed Surrey leading by 186 runs with three wickets and 50 overs and low hanging clouds to be negotiated.

“Possible,” said the man in front of me but, with overs to be removed between the innings, the required rate would already be at four runs an over and as each over went by until those last three wickets were taken that rate would start to rise exponentially. Calculations there were up to Somerset chasing 220 at five an over but as someone else said Morkel was unlikely to bowl in a way which would accommodate such scoring without significant risk and three wickets still had to be taken for such a target to be set.

Surrey were not about to surrender those wickets easily as Elgar and Clarke battled away the overs as the anticipated draw moved towards inevitability. Clarke edged tantalisingly short of the keeper and eventually Elgar edged Groenewald through to Davies. But Surrey were 235 for 8 and 217 ahead. Batty joined Clarke and they set about removing any faint Somerset hope which might still be clinging onto the game. Batty was beaten by Groenewald but the inside edge flew to the Sir Ian Botham Stand boundary and added four more runs to the by then all but impossible equation. Twice Leach persuaded a ball to spit and turn as tea approached but it was too late. The new ball was taken just before tea but Surrey reached the interval at 247 for 8, a lead of 229.

The match was dead but controversy, at least among spectators, raised its head. A very short resumption after tea was terminated by bad light with the floodlights shining bright. Having taken the players off the umpires returned to take a light meter reading. The light meters embedded in the eyes of spectators were certain it had been darker when play had commenced at the start of the day. Discussions started about the concept of floodlights being used to enhance the natural light and not to replace it; and the apparent, from the spectator viewpoint, vagaries of decisions to go off for bad light. The decision, in addition to provoking such discussion also led to an exodus from the ground as people either decided there was no point is staying further even if there was more play or because they had concluded that was the end of play for the day.

It wasn’t. The players came back out with about twenty minutes to go before a draw could be agreed. Azhar and Abell each bowled an over, off which no runs were scored, before the umpires took the players off again and concluded no more play would be possible. That the light looked brighter from the boundary than it had been when they had come back on about seven minutes before, that the floodlights were on and the two bowlers were hardly of lightning pace made no sense to many of those watching. Doubtless the light in the middle looks different to that seen from the boundary and although to my eye there was little to choose between the light seven minutes apart it did look a very odd light, as it can when it gets ‘dark’ at 4.30 co close to the summer solstice. I was struck too by how ‘dark’ the light in the car park looked as I left the ground. Bad light decisions have been a bone of contention for spectators for as long as I can remember watching first-class cricket and, I do not doubt, for at least as long again before that. Light meters were supposed to ease that tension. They have not and I wonder if the tension between umpires trying to apply the rules and spectators, with opinions and cricketing experience of their own, wanting to watch cricket will ever be resolved.

As to Somerset and the County Championship, the way in which the top of the table suddenly closed up and an 11 point lead was reduce to two by dint of a hard-fought draw can only serve to highlight the enormity of the task ahead if Somerset are to be in contention in September. It may need their undivided attention.

Result. Surrey 380 (R.J. Burns 107, D. Elgar 103, R. Clarke 59*, L. Gregory 3-52, M.J. Leach 3-85) and 255 for 8 (R.J. Burns 78, W.G. Jacks 54, M.J. Leach 3-70). Somerset 398 (L. Gregory 129*, J.C. Hildreth 90, Azhar Ali 60, R. Clarke 3-74, C. McKerr 3-94). Match drawn. Surrey 12 points, Somerset 11 points.