The rain factor in Lanka

OUT of 2,065 one-day internationals played before the Sri Lanka-England series only 62 have been declared no results.

TED CORBETT

OUT of 2,065 one-day internationals played before the Sri Lanka-England series only 62 have been declared no results; but at Khettarama in the ICC Champions Trophy final between Sri Lanka and India last September neither the original match nor the game on the following day managed 60 overs.

Sri Lankan captain Marvan Atapattu with the one-day series trophy. It was a strange series indeed with only one game out of three possible. — Pic. AFP-

Now two more have had to be cancelled without a ball being bowled — indeed without the covers being fully removed — and it seems that cricket has a serious problem.

As Oscar Wilde might have said: "To lose one limited overs match to the weather may be excusable; to lose two in 48 hours can only be described as sheer carelessness."

The lovely but wet island in the Indian Ocean has previous convictions for failing to complete its one-day games and it is time that those who compile fixture lists took account of these statistics.

Rain is a fact of cricketing life; trust me I come from Manchester. But we cannot have the game governed by storms, showers and the monsoon season. Somebody somewhere has to get to grips with the weather map and plan games so that a rained-off ruling is avoided whenever possible.

Too many downpours produce crazy results as we saw when two Premadasa games between Sri Lanka and England did not make a start over a week-end that begged for sporting action.

On the first day a prolonged, but futile, attempt was made to get the game started but it was mocked by the crowd, who finally burst out booing although they must have felt like crying.

The men of Colombo had paid out their hard-earned rupees, trudged to the ground or squeezed into three-wheelers with three of their buddies, or clung to the side of a bus and then found that the recent bad weather had made it difficult to decide where the cricket ground ended and the drainage canal began.

More easily identified as victims are the Barmy Army types who spent thousands of pounds to see the island and its beautiful countryside, its wildlife and its temples and fit their trip around cricket.

If the three games were the main object of their visit they got precious little for their pound notes — or, more likely, the big hole in their credit cards — and it would not be surprising if they went away with a sour thought about the meaning of serendipity.

Unhappy mischance might be their definition and they may not return.

One end of Premadasa was so muddy that many hours of work with two ground drying machines had little effect. Meanwhile, at the other end, the sodden earth received no attention and the ground remained unplayable by the time the second game was due to start.

One massive shower, an hour long and so heavy that the heavens alone knew how much water had been flooded on to the field, killed any hopes of the second game and although the ground authorities saw fit to try to get it ready for play it was always more of a gesture than a reality.

Due to a mix-up about the announcements many of the visitors set off back to their hotels as soon as the first shower ended. They are likely to be unimpressed by the hope that they will come back again. They are more likely to forget the goodwill in the efforts to make the ground dry and see only inefficiency. The whole business was unfortunate — rain cannot be stopped and all the covers in the world cannot hold back such a downpour — but it was also badly mismanaged.

There was a result to this series but it was unsatisfactory in every possible way.

Only one of the games was finished with a spectacular victory by Sri Lanka leaving England desperate to extract revenge in the two remaining games and finding that they could not even get on the pitch.

They were bowled out in Dambulla for 88 because they forgot the lessons that their coach Duncan Fletcher had hammered home the previous day. His message was simple: "Look, this will be a difficult pitch so let us not lose too many early wickets and build a platform for someone to let loose in the final 15 overs. It will not be a problem if we only score 45 or so in 15 overs so long as wickets are standing. A score of 120 in 35 overs may be all right too, so let's us try to set a total that they will find difficult on this pitch."

They had the ideal batsmen to accomplish this task. At the top of the order Michael Vaughan, the England captain, and Marcus Trescothick, both capable of long defensive Test-style innings. In the middle order Andrew Flintoff who can hit a yorker into the farthest stand and has been proving it on a regular basis in recent weeks.

For six overs things seemed to be working to plan. Andrew Strauss, a nervy newcomer, got out early but then Trescothick and Vaughan defended stoutly and left alone as many balls as possible.

At the start of the seventh over Trescothick wandered down the pitch and spoke to Vaughan. From my disadvantaged spot 80 yards away and high in the stand I thought he might be saying: "Let's keep going this way."

Apparently I was wrong. The first ball of the next over he skied into the outfield where Nuwan Kulasekera held a neat catch and before you could say "Thank heavens Sri Lanka is at peace once more", England were 45 for seven and obviously heading for a massive defeat. They struggled past their lowest score at 86, thanks entirely to Paul Collingwood who made 31 and Ashley Giles, the only other batsman with double figures, who hit 21. Collingwood is fit after a long spell out injured and Giles is bowling as badly as at any time in his career but they more than earned their match fees that night.

So, in the way of the modern game, when the awards ceremony came along at the end of the series Collingwood was declared England's man of the series. It was — and here is a quirky statistic — the only series England have lost without taking a wicket.

For what it is worth Sri Lanka won the series 1-0 after Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana scored the 89 runs needed in 13.4 overs and set up an intriguing finish over two games — if only they had been played.

It takes neither team a step forward. England's front men say their target is the 2007 World Cup when they will attempt to emulate their soccer and Rugby Union mates by claiming a global title and that the defeat at Dambulla is just a hiccup along a winding road that leads to the Caribbean.

Sri Lanka sat gingerly in third place at the end of this series but it is a tight middle of the rankings. Their team will hardly be young when they get to the West Indies and with their administration in turmoil and their president in danger of court proceedings who knows what will happen next. Jayasuriya must wait for another game to pass Aravinda de Silva's record of 308 limited overs matches but he may still be their doyen when they are among the favourites for the 2007 crown.

But not if more games are cancelled in this fashion. It is time ICC took a firmer grip of the calendar and certainly they ought to be in total charge of where matches are played and when long before 2007.

The scores Dambulla, November 18.

England 88 in 46.1 overs (Paul Collingwood 31, Chaminda Vaas three for 15) lost to Sri Lanka 89 for no loss in 13.5 overs (Sanath Jayasuriya 46 not out, Romesh Kaluwitharana 36 not out).