THE BLACKEST clouds were on the faces of the Surrey team as they crashed to a 26-run defeat after their AXA League match was reduced to a farcical thrash of 17, then 15 overs by heavy storms. In the end only 11 overs were possible but that was enough, since a minimum of 10 overs per side consitutes a match.
The result took Essex into joint first place in the table and left Surrey, the County Championship leaders, at the bottom of the 40-over competition and still without a win in their first six Sunday League matches.
Surrey tried to give the gathering storm time to arrive. But when each incoming Surrey batsman dawdled out to the middle the crowd saw red and the batsmen only succeeded in arousing the home fans' ire and received a barracking and calls of "Cheat!" to the timing of some slow handclapping.
The tactic was also ill-judged since it could have seen them timed out by the umpires.
Meanwhile the Surrey supporters were doing a rain dance and chanting mantras designed to encourage the heavens to open up. Their prayers were answered briefly when a sharp shower drove them off just after eight overs of the Surrey reply - but the weather relented and Surrey eventually emerged, after much cajoling and cat-calling by the crowd. There was also some impressively fast work by the Essex groundstaff to remove the covers. By then Surrey were so far behind the requisite score as calculated under the Duckworth-Lewis method that they had not a hope of matching the target even though the original one had been reduced.
Essex's own innings had been cut short at 27 overs inwhich acting captain Nasser Hussain and Stuart Law top scored with 30 apiece with Surrey fast bowler Alex Tudor picking up 2 for 22 off the four overs he bowled. Kent were robbed of an almost certain victory in the AXA League match at Grace Road yesterday after the England duo Dean Headley and Mark Ealham had ripped through the Leicestershire top order.
The home side, put in to bat, had collapsed to 25 for 5 off nine overs in between the showers when play was halted for the last time.
That was at 4.15pm and just under two hours later the umpires called it a day with the match declared a no result with both sides picking up two points.
These were bonus points for Leicestershire but a bitter disappointment for Kent who might well have jumped into the top three with a win.
Yorkshire's game against Hampshire at Headingley was also abandoned because of rain, but not before Gavin Hamilton had claimed career best figures of 5 for 16 as the visitors were reduced to 78 for 8.