Rain delays do strange things to cricketers. The dead time plays a huge part: time spent doing sod all while holed up in your changing room awaiting even the faintest hint that play might resume. Even those of sounder mind and not usually so stir-crazy can go awry.
In Test cricket, these moments are especially tedious. No access to phones, tablets or other such devices that could transmit or receive information cut down your entertainment options. Often whatever televisions are inside the changing rooms are restricted. No Netflix and even less chill.
Once the card games and reading materials have been exhausted – that never takes long – the room morphs into a hothouse of nonsense. It was during one such delay at the end of the Adelaide Test during the 2010-11 Ashes that Paul Collingwood thought it a good idea to use the drenched outfield as a slip-and-slide. The lunacy descends just as quickly further down the seniority chain. There are countless examples – most undocumented – but here are two gems of this wacky genre.
During a Kent game many moons ago, the players decided to recreate a scene from a movie. The movie they chose was Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. Kent bowler Ashley Shaw played the part of Moore, while a shirtless Mark Davies gave it his best Swayze. The scene was, of course, *that* pottery one. The results are both incredible and disturbing.
At another club game in the Midlands, former Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire batsman Greg Smith was opening for Kibworth and, by all accounts, going quite well. Looming clouds eventually brought about a series of delays and a deluge strong enough that Smith thought he could drive to a petrol station to buy a charger for his iPhone, which had run out of juice. Predictably, as soon as he left, the skies cleared and play resumed without him. Timed out he was. His skipper fumed and ordered everyone to pad up. Smith returned, charger-less, tail between his legs and spent the rest of the day incognito.
With all this in mind, perhaps we should have known what was coming. Something off the wall. That, after a day one washout, with the toss and team selection delayed with it, coming up was some madness of the highest order. Much like the rain, it came in waves. Edgbaston might have provided us with a classic, but Lord’s went rogue with the sort madcap slasher that’s banned in a few countries; entertaining while making you nauseous. Where better place to start than the bonkers run out of Cheteshwar Pujara.
Was there a call? Hard to say, but it seemed the only communication between Virat Kohli and Pujara was with their feet. A classy defensive shot from Pujara to another potent outswinger from James Anderson was followed by a couple of forward steps. Kohli responded with an 11-yard sprint. Then, the India captain screeches to a halt. It’s also at this point that Pujara, far too trusting for this modern world, puts his head down and gallops. But rather than seeing his partner do the same he ends up in an impromptu dash for the sanctity of the non-striker’s end. With comedic timing, the heavens opened just as Pujara made it to the first gate that leads back up to the famous old pavilion for a 25-ball one.
Pujara has grounds to blame Kohli, of course. But when you have been run out seven times in your Test career as Pujara has, you’re not going to get too many people buying your version of events. The boy who cried “Yes! No! Wait! Shit! Sorry!” like the Dean Jones caricature of a generation or two ago.
After 8.3 overs, India were 15 for 3. That deluge was backed up by a further monstrous downpour that, up until 4:30 PM local time, looked to have cut the game off at the knees. But away beyond the grandstand to the east, where black clouds once roamed, was a seal of yellow and blue with a rose gold tint. Not long after 5 PM, there were 29.3 overs of mayhem to get through. Turns out the hosts only required 26.5 of them as Anderson and Co. got to run around in their favourite type of adventure playground. As Jimmy said later, it doesn’t get much more fun than the conditions at their disposal today.
The vagaries of batting – concentration, getting set, rhythm – are distorted to no end when the elements take hold like this. That’s not to say India are excused for losing their last seven wickets for a paltry 92. But the odds were stacked against them. To put it another way – the last time the ball moved this much in a Test match was three years ago when Australia were bowled out for 60 at Trent Bridge. Joe Root is unlikely to win a better coin toss in his career. However, for the most peculiar passage, India were bystanders.
Twice Chris Woakes had catches dropped off his bowling by Jos Buttler at second slip. Twice Woakes berated Buttler, which is a bit like seeing your nan swear at a puppy. Twice Woakes drew an edge from the same batsman with the very next ball; twice Buttler made amends for his mistake. Once the universe had forgiven Buttler, Woakes had to as well.
But among the distorted reality that was the evening’s play, in atmospheric conditions that had the ball going around corners, on a pitch laced with psychedelics rather than seeds, there was one man in complete control.
A 26th five-wicket haul that moves him to 99 at Lord’s and 549 across the globe, James Anderson thrived amid darkness and chaos. It was he who orchestrated the collapse, bowling the sort of picture-perfect out-swinging deliveries that should be set to music. Especially the ones that beat Kohli’s outside edge and left him frustrated, each carrying with them that combination of beauty and ultimate sadness, like all good Motown tracks.
A lot is made of Anderson in these situations. Mostly that it is the conditions and the Dukes ball doing the brunt of the work rather than Anderson. It is why some odd pockets within cricket community refer to him as “Clouderson”. It’s a slur that is pretty easy to decipher but watching the 36-year-old at work today, it felt more like a super hero alter-ego.
For those that stayed and toughed it out through the rain, their faith was rewarded. For those that left, well, they’ll have a different story to tell. Nevertheless, here we are: almost two days lost yet already one innings down. India expect much of the same conditions when their seamers get that Dukes on Saturday morning.
Whisper it, but this game feels like it has a good deal of more stupor and mayhem left in it yet.
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