Cricket: From Ashes to alcohol

David Lewellyn finds the weather is no bar to action at a wet Lord's
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It was to have been such a colourful day. Michael Atherton should have trotted out on to the famous ground for a record 42nd time as captain of England (passing Peter May's mark) in front of a sell-out crowd, who had paid, collectively, around pounds 650,000 to witness the historic moment.

Instead it was a black and white day, from the menacing clouds above, to the pristine, gleaming wet stands below, while on the giant screen the crowd - those few able to see it - was entertained by some flickering footage of Ashes highlights from the monochrome era of television.

Around Thomas Lord's old ground dripped the crowd, resigning themselves to seeing no cricket, perhaps anticipating a refund through the English Cricket Board's Raincheck Scheme, a 100 per cent refund for seeing up to 10 overs, 50 per cent up to 25 overs.

No one seemed particularly disgruntled. Stoically, they sought alternative distractions. The MCC membership packed the pavilion, speaking in librarian- low tones while the public filled the bars with a happy buzz of conversation. The hardier souls sipped champagne at one of two mobile bars in an area at the Nursery End. Still more crammed into the bookies. Ladbrokes had a television and the other attraction of the week, Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot, was on the box.

Others lucky enough to be in seats that were sheltered from the elements remained where they were, delving from time to time into hampers and carrier bags. Their presence must have puzzled the tourist from Yokohama in Japan who stepped into the ground clutching his ticket. It was only spitting with rain. He squinted and asked where the play was. He will have wondered at those eccentrics who sat and stared at plastic sheeting as rain robbed Test cricket for the 83rd time of a complete day's play in England, the fourth time the opening day of the Lord's Test has been lost to the weather.

Time hangs heavy under overcast skies. Desultory groups of players formed card schools, or wandered around the confines of the pavilion.

The only people seemingly untouched and unaffected by the climate were the corporate hospitality guests. They remained, as always on these strawberry- season days, their backs to the event, steadfastly tucking in to bouchees and business talk.

Atherton should have his moment today. Yesterday, history was postponed.