Cricket: Summer says a sodden farewell to Surrey: Alyson Rudd joins eight suffering spectators to witness the end of the county cricket season on a day of damp inactivity at The Oval

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The Independent Online
ONE hundred and fifty paving stones, each bearing an inscription of the key event every year since 1845 in the life of Surrey County Cricket Club, are to be laid outside The Oval to celebrate its 150th anniversary next year. The inscription 'rain stopped play' will not be on any of them. It has been far too common an occurrence, and one which marred the final day of the 1994 cricket season there yesterday.

Play, against Kent in the County Championship, never actually started. At one o'clock the public address announcer confirmed that the game had been abandoned and politely thanked the assembled spectators - all eight of them - for their support.

Eight spectators was, in the event, a fair attendance. A steward said there was 'absolutely no one' in the stands, but a closer inspection revealed huddled figures staring out at the sodden turf.

One such figure was the archetypal county cricket devotee: retired, greying, pale blue eyes which lit up when recalling memories of Surrey's post-war successes. 'This lot couldn't hold a candle to the side after the war - that's the Second World War - which won seven or eight Championships in a row,' he said.

'I had hoped to bump into a few of the regulars,' he added, looking around at the 24,992 empty seats.

The past five months have been devoted to Surrey and now what? This supporter, who scorned one-day cricket as an aberration ruining the players' technique, is hardly likely to be tempted by tomorrow night's floodlit cricket billed as 'England's first ever international six-a-side tournament'.

Nor will he take the trip to Vauxhall to watch the Australian Rules Football being staged next month. The football - part of the sponsorship package with Fosters - is likely to tear up the grass. Afterwards the surface will be repaired, if required, and not used again until 23 April and the start of the Benson and Hedges Cup.

But today, behind the scenes, Mark Newton, the club's business director, will embark on his busiest time of year, negotiating deals designed to bring in pounds 4m to the club.

The Oval has traditionally been seen as inferior to Lord's and has to work harder at attracting sponsors and spectators. As a consequence it errs on the iconoclastic side: the first club to introduce perimeter advertising boards for the cameras in the Sixties; the first club to put a camera in the stumps in 1992; the first club to use a tri-visual sight screen last year.

These developments are vital, Newton said, for Surrey to afford to stay in residence at The Oval. A section of the membership is not so sure and objects to cricket being referred to as 'the product' by the chief executive, Glyn Woodman.

But a pitch invasion, should members believe Woodman has gone too far, is unlikely. Cricket fans are an equivocal bunch. One of the eight had booked time off work to attend the last day of the season, but shrugged off his disappointment. What really made him cross was that in exploring the hallowed halls of SCC to fill in time, he had found a picture of W G Grace. 'They've no right to have one here. He never played for Surrey.'

But pity the three youngsters at The Oval yesterday attending their first cricket match with only tortilla chips, assorted dips and lager for comfort. The notion of rain stopping play for the whole day was alien to them, and they were convinced that few spectators had turned out because one of them, Paul, had phoned the early-morning Kiss FM 'stressline' to complain about the weather.

The DJ misunderstood and told listeners that Paul was depressed because play had been cancelled. Which, after the dawn downpour and ensuing drizzle, it was always going to be. Eight spectators wasn't bad after all.

Scoreboard, page 43

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