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Playing the waiting game

Posted in England v West Indies 2009


Mary Poppins would be jealous: fans shelter from the elements at Headingley

Cricket is said to be a great test of character, but it is on days like this when your patience is given the sternest examination.

The first match of the NatWest Series was scheduled to get under way at 10.45am, and for once I’d arrived early. An hour and a half early, to be precise (me and time-keeping have never been the best of bedfellows).

However, the notoriously fickle Yorkshire weather and a Headingley drainage system experiencing a few teething problems meant it wasn’t until almost 3.15pm that the match between England and West Indies was finally called off because of a wet outfield.

To those who failed GCSE maths, that’s seven hours of waiting.

Anyone who has spent their life in England (actually, the last couple of weeks would suffice) knows only too well the perils of buying a ticket for the cricket in this part of the world.

And we must admit that we attract a certain breed of fan: he who arrives armed with a selection of newspapers, enough sandwiches to feed a small scout troop and a portable radio tuned into Test Match Special. 'As long as I can listen to Aggers, everything will be alright.'

But seven hours? Seven hours of waiting for the start of a game of cricket that never was. It was almost as painful as watching a Jeremy Kyle boxset. Almost.

So what to do? It is times like this when I realise exactly why those clever people at Microsoft installed Solitaire on my computer. But even the card game to rival all card games (if, like me, you’re short on friends), can only stretch so far.

Tim Bresnan

England all-rounder Tim Bresnan keeps himself amused as players and spectators alike try to pass the time

There’s always ‘snake’ on your mobile, although when you’re handling a 1970s-style piece of kit like mine, it only goes up to level three.

As a committed club player (for the non-English speakers amongst you, that translates as ‘rubbish’), I was always a big fan of French cricket in the dressing room during rain delays. However, I didn’t think that was quite suitable for the press box, so I gave it a miss. And anyway, I hadn’t brought my pads.

I’d scanned the county scorecards so often I could recite every player’s initials off by heart (CMW, since you ask), and I’d polished off my packed lunch so quickly I forgot to remove the cling film. Still, it's all extra protein.

With all other avenues of entertainment exhausted, my new favourite hobby became people-watching.

It has, in fact, always been something I’ve enjoyed (and, if I do say so myself, been quite good at), and there are few more curious places over which to cast your eye than a rain-delayed cricket match.

There are also certain sights which are as good as guaranteed, so here, in no particular order, is the spotter’s guide:

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann makes friends with the nuns, who added their own inimitable dash a colour to a trying day

Groundstaff loitering like teenagers outside the school gates; photographers snapping close-ups of puddles; so many umbrellas you could fill a Mary Poppins convention; queues snaking back from every bar; beer being spilled by the bucket-load; fans rushing for cover while the groundsmen charge in the opposite direction; abandoned machinery on the outfield; umpires doing passable impressions of weapons inspectors searching for landmines as they tread gingerly on the damp surface; and grown men in fancy dress.

Admittedly, the last item on that list is a constant whatever the weather (spend an afternoon on the Western Terrace during the Ashes Test if you don’t believe me). But on a day when excitement was as rare as an MP with a conscience, anything that tickled the senses was to be applauded.

I’ve never really seen the attraction in spending all day wearing clothes that are either too small, too big, too hot or too furry. However, as we’ve already touched upon, cricket is a unique sport and its fans are equally inimitable.

Where else would you find half a dozen guys dressed as nuns, chanting – to the tune of 'You’re not singing any more’ – ‘We love Jesus more than you’, at a group of blokes sporting pristine white Officer-and-a-Gentleman sailor costumes.

All the while, a rather more civilised chap sat a few rows back, unperturbed, thumbing casually through his broadsheet. You just knew he had seen it all before.

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