Cricket: A traditional start to new season - snow

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THE FIRST delivery of the new County Championship season was a full toss that left its intended target mopping himself down. Not blood, water. Snowballs were all Durham could unleash with a vengeance yesterday after the heavily-laden storm that scudded across the sky clouds laid down their burden down at the Riverside.

Durham's headquarters at Chester-le-Street looked perfect for the county's next Christmas card after it was buried under a carpet of snow by a steady fall through the morning but useless for its proper purpose. No on the first day of their opening match against Worcestershire.

The Championship is making an early start this season to make room for the World Cup and the visit of the New Zealand tourists, but April is not the most reliable month. Showers are one thing, but snow, hailstorms and thunder is just not cricket.

"We could have played here at any time during the last three weeks," Durham's new groundsman, David Measor, said. "Even after the wet winter the ground was dry and we were ready to start."

Rain put paid to play between Lancashire and Sussex at Old Trafford, but the county champions, Leicestershire, were able to get underway against Essex at Chelmsford in spite of the squally showers and bursts of hail and sleet. Just like the weather, this was a contest between the best and the worst, the hosts having finished bottom of the table last summer. All things considered, their return of 91 for 2 through the interruptions was not bad.

Not as good, though, as Surrey's. Every kind of weather imaginable, with the exception of fog, took turns to sweep across The Oval where Gloucestershire put the home side in, no doubt assuming that the inevitable interruptions would disrupt the batsmen's rhythm. But every time the sun returned, the left-handers Mark Butcher and Ian Ward looked as if they were batting on a shirt-front at the height of summer, piling up an unbroken 124 opening partnership.

Reports, scoreboard, page 21