Embarrassed Lancashire cricket chiefs faced the fury of supporters when an apparent drainage failure forced play to be abandoned ahead of schedule yesterday.
Angry spectators, who had paid up to £68 for a ticket, booed when it was announced at 5.39pm that there would be no more cricket between England and India on the second day of the fourth Investec Test, even though the skies had been clear for two hours.
A heavy shower in mid-afternoon, which lasted for about an hour, left much of the outfield under water. Although the majority was absorbed by the underground devices, there were two large puddles at the Brian Statham End of the playing area that refused to drain away, despite exhaustive use of the mopping-up vehicles the groundstaff use to disperse standing water.
A new £600,000 drainage system was installed in 2008 as part of extensive redevelopment work to bring Old Trafford back up to the standard of the best Test grounds in the country.
Lancashire sources suggested that the latest problem was caused by rebuilding work undertaken at the Statham End of the ground at the end of last summer. The grass was relaid in that area last winter and, according to the county’s cricket director, Mike Watkinson, this was the cause of the problem.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain said on Sky Sports: “The one thing you probably want to get right at Old Trafford is the drainage. It’s a shame that one heavy shower has ended up with the whole day called off. At a Test venue you cannot have one area of the ground that is a little bit dodgy.”
But Watkinson hit back: “Maybe that was something said in the moment. We’re talking about an area we used for construction purposes in the winter. It’s got high-performing drains and the same construction as everyone else, but the turf and grass haven’t had time to knit together over seasons.
“If we have got anything wrong, we hit it with the Water Hog [the vehicle used to mop up the water] rather than letting it drain naturally, but you can understand our groundstaff want to be as proactive as possible. They thought they could take a ‘cheat’ and get some of the water off the top but it has just disturbed the surface. It looks a bit of a mess, we accept that.”
Lancashire have taken heart from their Twenty20 Blast quarter-final against Glamorgan last week. Heavy rain meant no play was possible on the Friday but the teams were able to complete the tie the following afternoon.
Lancashire were keeping their fingers crossed that there would be no more rain overnight – but the forecast for the weekend is not good.
The worry for Lancashire is that they could suffer the next time Test matches are handed out, which could happen next March. The bidding process between the nine Test grounds in England is extremely competitive and no ground wants to miss a trick. As it is, Old Trafford has already been left off the list for next year’s Ashes series.
Watkinson added: “You would hope it is not held against us. You hope that people look at the cricket that has been played so far in this game, the quality of the pitch, the way it’s produced some great bowling and good batting. There has been entertaining cricket with a real momentum and better players have prospered. I hope they have not been bothered about five metres of a sandy puddle that has affected an hour’s cricket.”
Supporters will travel to Old Trafford today hoping for bright skies and more fascinating cricket as England, with a lead of 85 runs, push on for victory to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.
The drainage system at Lord’s is superior to that of every other ground, even though most have been improved. England batsman Ian Bell said: “Would we have got back on elsewhere? Definitely at Lord’s but the groundstaff gave everything to get us out there and it’s a shame we couldn’t play.”