The Sri Lankan cricket board might be world leaders at something. Try not to snigger. Yes, okay, there are paper towels more robust than their domestic system. Sure, the batteries in your TV remote have had longer lives than their last four ODI captains. But there is no cricket board with a better bad-weather strategy. Year after year, SLC hosts series in months afflicted by storms that unload lakefuls of water into their stadia, and emit cracks of thunder that shake the spine. The run of rainy weather England has seen over the past week has been unfortunate. But it is no tropical monsoon.
Driven, of course, by the desire to deliver a bankable broadcast product (the only whip that reliably animates administrators), SLC has taken stock of its challenges. Teams are generally unwilling to tour the island in its driest months, largely due to clashes with the Southern Hemisphere summer. As such Sri Lanka are forced to schedule tours from June through September, when there are frequent downpours. Worse, with sides such as England, who have their own home season through the middle of the year, SLC must occasionally host them in October and November, which is the domain of the northeastern monsoon. And yet, SLC has counteracted these scheduling misfortunes with a singularly effective strategy: they cover the whole ground.
ALSO READ: World Cup weather watch – your guide to the soggy scenario
No full tour of Sri Lanka goes by without a rain interruption, and to watch Sri Lanka’s groundstaff – the fastest in the world – in action, is practically its own form of entertainment. The pitch is first covered by a rubberised tarpaulin, before two more are heaped on top of that, a team of over 100 working in unison to ensure less than a minute’s worth of rain falls on the square. Once the centre is protected, the staff break into separate crews, a supervisor calling out instructions, and the remainder of the playing area is enveloped before 10 further minutes, at most. So well-drilled are these enormous teams, and so efficient, that at times you suspect, they surpass North Korean military shows for precision and spectacle.
The clear advantage that covering the entire playing area yields over, say, merely having good drainage, is the speed with which a ground can be readied the moment rain stops. Within an hour, play has often resumed. Can the same be said for serious rain interruptions virtually anywhere else? The square and the bowlers’ run-ups might require little work, but the vast areas of the ground that remain uncovered in England require substantial going-over with super soppers, plus additional drying with a rope.
And what if several days’ worth of rain has fallen? The drizzle never ceased in Bristol on the day that was supposed to host Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, and the outfield was so sodden, there was little chance of play after a critical point. There is a good chance even Sri Lankan groundstaff may not have prevented the three washouts at the World Cup over the past week, but the point is this: a fully-covered ground gives cricket its greatest chance of happening. A four-and-a-half hour relent is frequently long enough in Sri Lanka, to complete a shortened ODI.
The obvious caveat to all this, of course, is that labour is relatively cheap in Sri Lanka. More to the point, perhaps, masses of young people on the island can more easily be convinced to spend several days pulling covers, if for no other reason than they are keen to watch the cricket while the sun shines. Maybe hiring a hundred casual staff for match days plus rehearsals may be impractical in nations such as England. But covering the entire ground need not be. A few new tractors, a pile of fresh covers, and perhaps just handful of additional staff – all this is feasible. It is not as if either the ECB or the ICC can claim to be hard up for cash.
The World Cup washouts have been frustrating for fans across the planet, and for the teams who feel they have missed out on an outright victory. But they have been especially tough on those who have traveled to watch the game. Three Bangladesh fans who had driven down overnight from Edinburgh to Bristol, had their ticket payments refunded after Tuesday’s no-result, but will not be compensated for the work days they missed on account of their travels. Others had come from London, Birmingham and Manchester, and did not see so much as a pre-game warm-up.
The World Cup is supposed to be cricket’s greatest showcase. The ICC has a member board that routinely faces tougher weather challenges than England, and has devised an ingenious way around them. But aside from Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, world cricket has not followed SLC’s example.
In the last four years, Sri Lanka has hosted 73 internationals. Only two of those games – both ODIs – have ended in no-results. There have been no drawn Tests in the island since 2014. It’s difficult to argue with those results.