Look up the word ‘frustration’ in the dictionary and there’ll probably be a picture of a drenched English cricket ground, with dark clouds as far as the eye can see.
This was the scenario for the majority of the second Test between England and Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
After a thoroughly entertaining first Test at Old Trafford, where the home side chased down a respectable second innings target of 276 on the fourth day with three wickets to spare, the anticipation was high for another quality battle less than a week later.
Mother Nature however, had other ideas.
Countless interruptions of rain and bad light hindered the Test from the get go. We can only speculate if Pakistan’s first-innings total of 236 was above or below par considering it took England until the final day to get a decent crack at batting themselves.
One could also accept the outfield would be rather slow after days of relentless showers, including a thunderstorm in the early hours of the fifth morning. As a result, play didn’t get underway until after lunch.
Before the players even took to the field on the final day, it was inevitable the outcome would be a draw. So why bother playing?
The answer is quite simple, yet it stems far beyond the little Test match that couldn’t.
Every time the camera panned over the vacant ground, our collective hearts sank. Playing cricket has never been more important. It’s not just a game anymore, it’s a symbol of hope that we are heading back towards some type of normality.
For many, sport is the ultimate form of entertainment. It gives us a welcome distraction from our daily routines. We look forward to the contest. We love the element of unpredictability, the roller coaster of emotions and the stories within the story. Test cricket has always delivered this in spades. Now more than ever, we need this in our lives.
Even though it looked more like a swimming pool than a cricket field, the ground staff worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Protective covers hugged the pitch, super soakers whizzed around the outfield trying desperately to sop up the excess water, and regular safety inspections were being held to determine when the match could resume.
The frustration of the commentators echoed those of us trying to watch at home. In a time when little sport is being played, people are desperate to see some form of competition. Some people are branching out into sports they might not have once watched, while others are beginning to rekindle their love of cricket in its purest form. This was meant to be a showcase.
Granted, it’s not the glitz and glamour of the IPL (which is now scheduled to begin next month in the UAE). There have been no crowds, no banners and no Barmy Army singing their patriotic chants. There were just a few polite claps of recognition from the ground staff for some good passages of play.
If anything, it gives the home viewer more of an insight into the mental battle between bat and ball. The conversations in the middle were clearer, the sounds of combat crisper. It almost had the feel of a private performance.
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Credit must go to those who persisted with a game that was destined to end in a draw. At the very least, the players got a well deserved hit-out, but I suspect there was a certain amount of pride involved in the decision. The ground may have been dampened but their spirits refused to be.
The match ended with the players from both sides choosing to call it a day and walking off the ground together. A fitting end for a frustrating Test.
The third Test is due to start in Southampton on August 21. We can only hope the weather will be kinder this time around and cricket will be given the opportunity to shine.