It was a wretched Saturday at the First Test. The first two days, both curtailed by bad light and rain, had been desultory enough but this was the worst kind. Rarely was it quite fit enough for play but often it seemed not quite unfit enough either.
England added 21 runs in the 8.5 overs possible in the morning. New Zealand did not take any wickets. Alastair Cook made his 17th Test score above 50 and was in the kind of form to suggest that he would convert it into his eighth hundred. Andrew Strauss, restored as his opening partner, was almost flamboyant; he might yet be restored as an authentic Test batsman as well.
The timing of such a day could hardly have been worse, or better, depending on your viewpoint about Test cricket and its future. Although the longest and purest form of the game has a significantly solid base in England it is struggling elsewhere.
The authorities, for what they are worth, have pledged to protect it at any price, and any price is what it may take. They cannot, in any case, prevent seminal change. Ominously, most of the conjecture between the showers was of money, Twenty20, the Indian Premier League and Sir Allen Stanford. Nobody was worried much about England's bowling or the state of their batting, which is a worry.
If Test cricket did reach the agenda it was when news filtered through that Matthew Hoggard had sustained a broken thumb and would have to withdraw from the squad for the second Test which starts in Manchester on Friday. The form bowler may be Graham Onions of Durham but the temptation may be to summon Stephen Harmison, who delivered the ball which did for Hoggard, and had his best Test return at Old Trafford two years ago.
The ticket revenue yesterday was £1.15 million, 87.5 per cent of which goes to the England and Wales Cricket Board, the rest to the MCC; potential losses respectively of around £1m and £150,000. Full refunds are available if fewer than 10 overs are bowled, 50 per cent if there are under 25 overs.
It is an expensive business. There was a talk given to the International Cricket Council a few years ago in which it was suggested that cricketers ought to play on in rain and bad light. Occasionally, in the case of the latter, it can be dangerous, though not in this match. Those who claim light, ought to be referred to England's historic win in Karachi in 2000 which was achieved in darkness – because they knew a win was at hand.
Anything can be done if the players want it, and somebody should mention that they are playing for the future of a game. True, it was difficult at Lord's yesterday, the best ground in the world for getting play started. But maybe cricketers would do it for more cash.
It has been confirmed that the ECB are indeed climbing into bed with Sir Allen, the Texan multi-billionaire and cricket benefactor, who is willing to put up hitherto unimaginable sums of money. As part of the agreement, which seems only to have the odd i still undotted, he will put up $20m (£10.3m) for a T20 match in Antigua for each of the next five years between England and a Stanford West Indies Invitation XI.
He will also supply a further $20 million a year for a quadrangular T20 tournament to be held at Lord's, starting in 2010. The slogan, in Texan drawl, appears to be: "Twennytwenny for twenny." What will happen when inflation takes hold it is perhaps best not to ponder.
The matches in Antigua will be authorised – in that they will be sanctioned by the relevant boards – but unofficial. Thus runs and wickets will not count towards T20 records, which in some blinkered eyes are not in any case worth the paper they are written on. This means that black bats, already used in the Stanford West Indian T20 competition but now illegal in official cricket, will be used.
Nor will the Antiguan matches now be winner takes all, which was initially what had lent it a special edge. Some of the pot will go to West Indian cricket and the players on both sides will be guaranteed some appearance money, say $50,000 (£25,600) to $100,000 (£51,300). Winner Takes Nearly All does not have quite the same cachet in an unofficial match. Bring on the dancing girls.
The money, then, is what it is about as, fundamentally, it was with the Indian Premier League. Though perhaps not as much as was originally thought. Several Australians, and therefore it is possible to suppose players of other nationalities, are still waiting to be paid their salaries, which in many cases were, of course, of the fancy variety.
It will be cleared up, no doubt, because otherwise the players will not go back and the IPL would be dead, which would be in nobody's interest.
Kevin Pietersen, it seems, has been offered a contract of $2m (£1m) a year to take part in the IPL, which he is keen to take up. England have demonstrated a marked reluctance so far to allow their players to participate, hence the need to compensate them in the form of the Stanford cash. But Pietersen, perhaps understandably, is keen to go, despite the fact that he once said of T20 that you had to play "silly shots for a silly game". It's not so silly now.
But it should not be as straightforward as it sounds. IPL teams are allowed eight foreign players on three-year contracts, with a salary fund which is capped. All places are taken and the sort of money that is being talked about in Pietersen's case would affect others' wage levels.
Regulations can be changed where the IPL is concerned, since they have hardly had time to be cast in stone. The ECB may avoid needless confrontation and annex the moral high ground by allowing the players to decide.
England won toss
New Zealand – First Innings 277 (B B McCullum 97; R J Sidebottom 4-55)
England – First Innings (Overnight 68-0)
A J Strauss not out (100 balls, 3 fours) 31
A N Cook not out (87 balls, 6 fours) 53
Extras (nb5) 5
Total (0 wickets, 30.2 overs) 89
To bat: M P Vaughan, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, M S Panesar, J M Anderson.
Bowling: C S Martin 13-2-36-0, K D Mills 9.2-1-19-0, T G Southee 3-0-19-0, J D P Oram 5-0-15-1.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (West Indies) and S J A Taufel (Australia)
TV umpire: N J Llong
Match referee: R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka)
Reserve umpire: J W Lloyds.Reuse content