In Praise of the Rain Delay

The recent sad passing of Bev Congdon caused the usual moment of reflection to note the loss of a cricketer who had graced the game in years past.  As is always the case, whether a player is familiar to the cricket follower depends on their age, and in my case I am too young to have remembered him playing.  And yet his is a name that’s familiar to me, from growing up and getting into the game of cricket.  Curiously, despite him being retired before I did so, I did see him play, but only through the medium of the series highlights played when it was raining.

Of course, in those days there was no internet, no immediate and obvious means of recognising what had happened in past series, and as much as anything else, the selection of a summer of cricket places on standby in case of rain, provided an education on the game and those who played it.  They tended to be from the 1970s, although occasionally they did go earlier, which I would initially object to, as it was transparently old to the intolerantly youthful.

To my young eyes, these were new players mostly – names introduced in small chunks across a particular Test series, and having no knowledge of the outcome, it was fascinating viewing.  Some elements were endlessly surprising, such as discovering that Dennis Lillee had been around for an awfully long time, some openly puzzling – Dale Hadlee can’t be Richard’s father surely? Oh, they’ve mentioned someone called Walter – ensuring much close attention to try and work out the strands of family relationships, or those who looked terribly young on these replays, and gnarled and grizzled in the live match currently suffering from wet weather.

Equally, some entire careers could be seen in fast forward, yet still without being able to place them in full context.  Graham Roope looked an exceptional cricketer to me in these highlight reels, and youthful confusion that no one ever talked about him wrestled with disappointment when his five minute long innings of about 70 would come to an end.

Occasionally, they went further back, and instead of 25 minute highlights of a given day, it would be the story of a series, invariably narrated by John Arlott – another mysterious name mentioned on occasion, but who I’d missed entirely.  From being grumpy at seeing black and white pictures, or film rather than video, those tones would draw me in.  Oblivious that it was a particular skill of his anyway, the storytelling of cricket was utterly beguiling, and the disappointment of an England defeat in a Test series long since finished was palpable.

If the highlights were memorable, so too were the studio discussions.  For the young nowadays, a David Gower or Ian Botham will be every much a part of the distant past to them as Jim Laker or Tom Graveney was to me – the longevity of Richie Benaud always placed him in a slightly different category – and the premature death of Laker in particular upset my young self significantly.  Those discussions around cricket, followed by a tape of some long forgotten Test match, meant that rain was only a mild irritation, certainly compared to the annoyance of my sister who was aghast at my fascination with watching someone called Edrich score runs from a decade earlier.

There is always the temptation to assign particularly fond childhood memories like this to nostalgia, but cricket does lend itself it to endless discussion more than some other sports; the long form of the game has its own cadences and rhythms that make even arcane enforced conversation feel a part of the process, rather than an interruption to the event.  And while the shift to pay TV has meant that satellite broadcasters either have no desire or no budget to buy in long gone highlights from 40 years ago, perhaps for this generation’s child watching the 2005 Ashes for the first time, the same emotions are stirred.

Certainly it isn’t purely a nostalgic thing anyway.  A few years ago in a series I can’t remember, between New Zealand and someone else, the morning rain inadvertently produced truly riveting late night television for the cricketing tragic.  If a line up in the studio of Charles Colville, Dominic Cork and Mark Butcher perhaps doesn’t press every button for many, then this would prove to be a joyful surprise.  Colville in particular is vastly better as a presenter than a commentator, with the rare and underappreciated skill of knowing when to shut up and let his guests talk.  And that’s what Cork and Butcher did – a wide ranging, sometimes serious and sometimes not debate on the game, memories and friends and colleagues.  As it went deep into the night, the viewing audience must have been miniscule, for Sky barely even bothered to go to an advertising break.  But for those who were watching and listening, it was a rare treat – two people chatting in depth about the game, with a skilled interviewer occasionally interjecting to ask a relevant question.  Want to know how wonderful that was?  The following night I tuned in, and was disappointed to learn the weather in New Zealand was sunny.

Equally, Sky now have a decent library of their Masterclass series, and it rarely gets dull to watch a special player demonstrate their skills – the skills of their minds as much as anything else; while listeners to TMS often actively look forward to hearing the rain fall given that radio is unsurpassed when it comes to the beauty of the unscheduled random conversation.

There can be few if any other sports where bad weather can prevent play, yet where aficionados are only mildly put out, taking the opportunity to drink in the game past and present.  It might even be said to be a formative experience, for it can sometimes most closely echo the experience of many a young cricketer sat listening to the old players in his (and now her) local club, absorbing everything that is said, and hoping they don’t notice him sat listening to every word.  They do of course, and they remember doing the same.

I can think of no other way I could have become so steeped in cricket history so quickly.  And the next generation have the same experience for those who to me were familiar.  It is a priceless introduction, and why above all else, cricket is a sport where sometimes it really doesn’t matter if the weather is bad.

Let it rain.

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22 thoughts on “In Praise of the Rain Delay

  1. Tony Bennett February 15, 2018 / 8:47 pm

    Nice post. Unfortunately the thought that stays with me is that we used to be able to watch Bev Congdon, Graham Roope etc on free-to-air TV. The downsides of the current TV arrangements are obvious and don’t need exploring here. Even the rain-break bygone-era highlights are not seen by the vast majority of cricket fans (let alone potential cricket fans).

    I can’t say my memories of Bev Congdon are all that rosy. I endured seeing him make successive scores of 170 plus against England in 1973. Without looking it up I think his scoring rate was about 30 runs per 100 balls. The highlights wouldn’t reveal that. Of course he ensured that NZ competed, something they didn’t often do in those days.

    And Roope did look good. He couldn’t produce consistency at Test level – a 1970s version of James Vince I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sean February 15, 2018 / 10:49 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, not sure it will get the traffic or comments it deserves.

    When I was a kid, I was just as glued to the ‘old Test highlights’ as I was the game itself. I fondly remember watching the 81 Headingley higliights or listening to Benaud and Boycott properly discussing the game during a rain break.

    Far much better than the standard ABdV masterclas or watching the ICC ‘how the World Cup was one’, let alone listening to Botham and Warne compare dick sizes…

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance February 16, 2018 / 1:00 pm

      For some reason, my favourite posts on here have tended to be spectacularly unsuccessful in terms of views. Ah well, sod it – we don’t do it for views.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. man in a barrel February 16, 2018 / 12:38 am

    Bev Congdon’s stats do not look great and yet in 1973, in the damp part of the summer, he compiled 2 massive innings and inspired his colleagues to bat out of their skins against attacks that included John Snow, the deadly Geoff Arnold (a more accurate version of J Anderson, if you ask me), Old, Illingworth and Gifford – Illy had a thing against Underwood. Apart from the obvious high point at Trent Bridge where New Zealand failed by 38 runs to score 478 to win, the next match at Lords was probably even finer. An England team including Boycott, Amiss, Fletcher and Greig were bowled out for 253 and NZ replied with 551, including a consecutive score of 170 odd for Congdon. England held on for a draw in a way that they could not do today.

    Yes, it was not often attractive cricket, Congdon had the stroke range of Cook and none of his fellow centurions could be classed as flowing strokeplayers. But it was gritty, gutsy cricket from a team of definite underdogs. Given the gulf in class between the 2 teams, it was an astonishing effort, as I realised at the time, aged 13.

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    • SteveT February 16, 2018 / 4:41 pm

      Remember it well, that series was the first one I watched properly, was 11 at the time. NZ could and should have got a win at Lord’s, England were saved by a magnificent 178 by Keith Fletcher, but the NZ keeper Ken Wadsworth dropped Geoff Arnold twice. NZ’s best batman was supposed to be Glenn Turner but he had an absolute stinker. The NZ XI was Turner, Parker, Hastings, Congdon, Burgess, Pollard, Wadsworth, R Hadlee, H Howarth (Geoff’s brother), Taylor, Collinge (Remebered without Wikipedia or CricInfo). Congdon also played in a weak NZ team in 1978 with more modest results but he would have been about 40. Wonderful happy memories

      Liked by 1 person

      • thelegglance February 16, 2018 / 4:51 pm

        Hadley Howarth!! I’d totally forgotten about him.

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        • man in a barrel February 16, 2018 / 10:06 pm

          HEDLEY ;)… And I think the Hadlee was older brother Dayle, who worked up some serious pace in the first innings – a harbinger of what was to come against Boyce and Co later that summer and 1974. The Englishers didn’t like it up ’em. I think Richard played in the Trent Bridge Test at the age of 19 or so. He seemed to have pace but no control. Amiss and Greig milked him in their epic stand. Apart from those 2, no one scored any runs in the first Test till Bev buckled down.

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          • man in a barrel February 16, 2018 / 10:14 pm

            No worries LG. I remember HH because a certain English batsman who could play slow left arm with a stick of rhubarb got out to him caught and bowled for 98 or 99. The departing batsman seemed slightly aggrieved

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          • thelegglance February 16, 2018 / 11:14 pm

            My 7 year old self was probably bitterly disappointed by that. Young idiot.

            Liked by 1 person

          • man in a barrel February 16, 2018 / 11:38 pm

            Getting out for less than 100 meant that he was already down against Greig, Amiss, Congdon, Pollard etc. Wow, looking back, I guess the selectors had decided that the success of Amiss in Pakistan in a new role as opener allowed them to drop Edrich. Once Boycott ducked out against India in 1974, back came the dreaded Edrich. Given that Roope was never a better bat for Surrey than Edrich and he never batted higher than 5,what were Bedser and Co thinking? Why they picked Roope rather than Hants David Turner… Why they picked Hayes in 1974. Was there an anti Ingleby-Mackenzie lobby at Lords? Had Colin stolen Gubby’s port? Strange selections….

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      • man in a barrel February 16, 2018 / 10:09 pm

        Turner burned out by managing to score 1000 runs in May. He seemed to have nothing left in the tank. Yet if you compare the teams man for man he was probably the only Kiwi who would have made that England side

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        • man in a barrel February 16, 2018 / 10:12 pm

          I seem to recall that just before that tour, New Zealand got through a series against West Indies without losing. Congdon was nicknamed “Kicker” because of the way he played Gibbs

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  4. Riverman21 February 16, 2018 / 7:58 am

    I enjoyed this post too

    I also remember the Arlott pieces on old summer tours. I can still picture the West Indian one. I feel privileged to have grown up with the voices of Arlott, Laker and Benaud.
    I once served Peter West in a pub but that’s another story.

    Like

  5. metatone February 16, 2018 / 9:28 am

    I think the base of my understanding of cricket came from a rain delay where Benaud was drawn into a 20 minute discussion about Malcolm Marshall. I think it was Jack Bannister in the other chair, but he did little more than throw up a couple of questions. I don’t remember many other times where Benaud talked at such length and depth. (One being a delay where he got talking about Warne and legspin, but that was many years later.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. nonoxcol February 16, 2018 / 10:18 am

    Most common BBC 1980s rain delay staples, from memory:

    The 3rd, 4th and 5th Tests v WI in 1976.

    (the proverbial daylight: these seemed to be on *all the time*!)

    Headingley 81 (apparently; I was never lucky enough to catch it though)
    Gillette Cup semi-final 1971 featuring David Hughes in the dusk
    Botham v Pakistan in 1978
    World Cup Final 1975

    and best of all, imho:

    Viv at the Old Trafford ODI, 1984.

    I didn’t watch anything like as much live cricket on TV after going to university in 1991 – can anyone around the age of 30-35 give us an updated list, or did they just keep churning out the same old hardy perennials?

    Like

  7. Northern Light February 16, 2018 / 1:56 pm

    That was a really enjoyable read, and explains in part why I look back on my early years and remember that the sun was always shining in the summer. It was because I was indoors watching replays of cricket.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. oreston February 16, 2018 / 2:58 pm

    A wonderful post, TLG. i really enjoyed reading it and it brought back memories of those highly (in)formative rain delays during the Beeb’s televised Test match coverage in the ’70’s and 80’s. Arlott, Laker, Benaud, Peter West et al… we were in very, very good hands.

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  9. stephenfh February 16, 2018 / 8:00 pm

    Good reading and good memories of Peter West underneath a large golf umbrella taking viewers into the Beeb archives. I seem to remember games shown during a rain delay being interrupted when the weather had taken an unexpected turn for the better (and it being more welcome on some occasions than others!)

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  10. Rooto February 16, 2018 / 9:20 pm

    A beautiful, lyrical post TLG. Thank you. Apart from those examples already mentioned I particularly remember the (seemingly) regular replays of Peter West introducing Mudassar Nazar’s great match at Lord’s in 83 (?). Or maybe I just remember West pronouncing “Mudassar Nazar”.
    Yes, I am yet another reader in my 40’s…

    Like

    • quebecer February 17, 2018 / 1:58 am

      I was at that test. Mum took me and a team of visually impaired cricketers were sitting behind us (they listened to the radio commentary in one ear, the noise from the ground in the other). They were fond of my Mum’s sandwiches and the joke, “You could see that wasn’t out from here.” The other one they liked was about Mudassar Nazar, who, they thought, didn’t look much of a cricketer.

      In retrospect, the long rain delay must have just flown by for others sitting close by.

      Like

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