Scanning a vacant MCG over pre-lunch drinks, the wife of a Melbourne Cricket Club veteran said: “I wouldn’t have taken my washing in today.”
You took her point, and it wasn’t that she wouldn’t be in any hurry about the aperitif. Such precipitation as was upon the MCG at that time could not have been dignified by the title of rain; it was at heaviest mist.
It was 10 minutes before the scheduled break, but play had stopped. In the dug-out on the boundary line, the Pakistani batsmen flexed and rolled their shoulders and swung their bats and generally made it clear that they wanted to be back out in the middle. Why would they not: Azhar Ali was a hundred and some not out, and was leading his team redoubtably towards a negotiable position in the Test match.
All morning, the contest had proceeded along simple lines.The n seamers had pitched up, searching for movement, and Azhar and Asad Shafiq had defended on the front foot, and sometimes the ns overpitched and the Pakistanis drove. Nathan Lyon, they swept off his length. Thus, 90 runs, QED. For fans, the game was now at an appetising juncture.
The interruption spared a tricky decision: should it persevere with the old ball (perversely, it had just been changed, after 79 overs) or risk it in dampness with the new? The answer, as delivered by the umpires, was roast beef and a rub-down.
Three hours later, as the coffee and port came out, play was still on pause. There had been an inspection, the pace of which affirmed that if you did watch grass grow for long enough, it would, and presently there would be a resumption, but not until after the sauntering was done. It was as if it was beneath cricket’s dignity for anyone to jog, least of all match officials.
Cricket is in none of its obtuse ways more byzantine than when it rains. The rule says that it is at the umpire’s discretion when to stop play, and when to re-start it. Out of this has grown a convention that if rain stops play, it cannot begin again until the rain has ceased completely. Hence, three courses and a lovely pinot noir’s worth of idleness on Tuesday.
But this was not Brisbane rain, liable to arrive and depart in a swamping torrent, necessitating the curator sometimes to halt a match pre-emptively. It was Melbourne rain, causing a little bit of glistening on the terraces, but otherwise barely reaching the ground. An old teammate, an emigre from the north of England, once watched the umpires confer in a bit of murk in a suburban game and growled: “If we hadn’t play in this back home, we’d never have played.”
Away again, the Test match built up another head of steam, two new-ball wickets for the , 78 more runs for the Pakistanis. Azhar was immovable, his partners bold and all of them prepared to scamper for runs as Pakistanis rarely do. But the ns were energised, too, and their battle was royale.
Yes, Mitch Starc sometimes slid at the crease and fiddled with his spikes. For him, conditions might not have been ideal, but it is part of a cricketer’s remit to adapt to less than ideal conditions. It was not as if they now called for an occupational health and safety assessment.
Suddenly, it was over. Body language suggested that this suited neither side. The batsmen were keen to press on, the bowlers to take imminent wickets. Too much time had been lost already. Neither would have benefited from a strategic swiftie. Here is the the essence of the point: safety is important, but if both sides were prepared to go on, should that not be the bottom line?
But rules were rules. Three ns shook Azhar’s hand, and all deferred until he had left the field, and that was that. Fans lingered longingly, wearing not an item of weather protection among them, and nor groundstaff, TV crews or security feel the need to cover up, but in the middle, reserve umpire Sam Nogajski conspicuously held up an umbrella, the only one in the ground. It was raining, you see.