Cricket: England draw comfort from grim outlook

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The Independent Online
AS Pakistan sat in the pavilion contemplating the injustice of life in the umbrella capital of England, the good news for Graham Gooch's beleaguered team is that Manchester's weather is in better form than they are at the moment. The odds on England escaping with a draw are a good deal brighter after yesterday's washout, and Michael Fish might yet come up on the rails with a late threat to Aamir Sohail for the man of the match medal.

Nothing has shrunk more in the rain this summer than Test match Friday. At Edgbaston, two balls; Lord's, one session; Old Trafford, nothing at all. In the 36 sessions of play in the series that might have taken place so far, 11 have been lost to the weather, and England's inside the distance defeat in the last Test actually means that 14 have disappeared.

The public, unfortunately, has been short-changed - on Edgbaston Friday, thanks to the Test and County Cricket Board's no refund clause, literally so. Whether yesterday's audience would describe themselves as fortunate in not witnessing any play at all is a moot point, but at least they got their money back.

The Board had sold 14,000 of the 20,000 tickets in advance sales yesterday (although less than a third of those customers were optimistic enough, or daft enough, to turn up) and the pounds 250,000 that it cost them will duly be refunded.

However, having only just reached the excess on their insurance policy, the Board will not be re-imbursed anything like the amount they have lost so far this summer. As Test match revenue, like the rain, nourishes the grass roots, this will not cheer up some of the more impoverished county treasurers.

Even less cheerful is an acquaintance of one of the BBC commentators, who dipped in with a punt on one of the many different types of bet offered on Test matches these days. The bookie sets a 'par' total, and the punter bets so much per run, above or below.

On Pakistan's first innings, 'par' was set at 385, and our man went pounds 30 per run above. Even though he is pounds 90 ahead at present, if Pakistan had reached the 700 they might easily have done by last night, he would now be looking at something not unadjacent to pounds 10,000.

Pakistan will not now bat on as long as they might have done before declaring, and a full day's play today is, according to the weather bulletin, highly unlikely. A small consolation is that the Old Trafford square is as well protected as any in the country under its inflatable tent, which is, needless to say, sponsored. At Old Trafford, the covers represent the primest advertising site on the ground.

Tomorrow is the only Sunday rest day of the series, which was planned that way because the Board considered the competition from Wimbledon too stiff, and there is no contingency to use it for making up lost time.

The reasons are mainly administrative, but as both sides also have to agree to a change in pre- set playing conditions, it is hardly likely that England would look upon an extra six hours as a bonus. Furthermore, with the possibility of England being rolled over twice on Sunday, it might not amuse those customers who have invested in Monday tickets.

As the rain beat down yesterday, the only view that was remotely interesting was the one through the committee room window. There, in deep discussion, were Ted Dexter, Micky Stewart, Graham Gooch and Colin Cowdrey, and the subject, apparently, was the possible paroling of Mike Gatting's South African tourists at next Wednesday's International Cricket Council meeting.

Somewhere soon, another meeting may be taking place to discuss the continuing drop in Test match attendances outside the two London grounds. Customers in the provinces do not part with their cash in advance quite so readily, preferring (wisely, as the two-ball Edgbaston fiasco proved) to keep their options open.

On top of which, there is the obvious consideration of cash conservation in these recessionary times, and in expanding the one- day international programme (there are still, don't forget, three more to play) the TCCB has positively invited smaller Test match crowds. As the Board sows, so shall it reap.

THIRD CORNHILL INSURANCE TEST (Old Trafford): Pakistan 388 for 3 (Aamir Sohail 205, Javed Miandad 59no, Asif Mujtaba 57, Ramiz Raja 54) v England.