Rain thwarts England’s progress to ensure Test is evenly balanced

Heavy rain and a sodden outfield prevented England building a promising lead in the fourth Investec Test against India at Emirates Old Trafford as play was abandoned.

rain stops play: Groundstaff at Old Trafford battled to save the second days play but eventually had to admit defeat.
rain stops play: Groundstaff at Old Trafford battled to save the second days play but eventually had to admit defeat.

England were starting to push ahead confidently in the afternoon session of the second day and were leading by 85, with four first-innings wickets remaining, when a torrential downpour forced the players off.

Groundstaff made considerable efforts to get the surface fit for play after the rain stopped –and the sun came out – but large puddles at the Brian Statham End proved impossible clear sufficiently.

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So while the vast majority of the playing area was ready, umpires Marais Erasmus and Rod Tucker felt they had little option but to abandon play on safety grounds following a 5.40pm inspection.

Mike Watkinson, director of cricket at host club Lancashire, later said that recent construction work at that end of the ground had meant drainage was not as efficient as it should be.

And former Yorkshire and England opener Sir Geoffrey Boycott was quick to criticise the situation soon after play had been abandoned for the day.

“How many cricketers would run down there? This sort of thing hurts cricket,” said Boycott on BBC radio.

“The evening is set, we could easily play on. Did the groundstaff know about this? If so, they should have covered it or brought the boundary in.

“It wouldn’t have been pleasant fielding on it, but we have to get on with the game. There’s a bigger picture. People pay a fortune to watch. That’s bigger than a couple of cricketers slipping over.”

England, after being troubled by India in the morning session, had been reasserting their grip on proceedings and were 237-6 with Yorkshire’s Joe Root unbeaten on 48.

Root had shared in an unbroken seventh-wicket stand with Jos Buttler, who was 22 not out.

The players left the field at 2.15pm amid drizzle, but that quickly turned into heavy rain.

Only during what should have been the tea interval – which was official taken as scheduled at 3.40pm - did the weather relent, allowing groundstaff to begin a mopping-up operation.

The square was soon ready for action and the majority of the outfield, which had been covered in puddles, drained well but a sizeable section at one end remained under water.

The water was eventually cleared at the one troublesome end, but England were left to feel frustrated after wresting back the initiative following a difficult morning in which they lost three quick wickets.

The hosts had begun the day looking to build a commanding lead but India, chiefly through their paceman, threatened to get back into contention.

Ian Bell, 45 overnight, did reach his half-century in the second over of the morning but the luckless Pankaj Singh – still seeking his first Test wicket – and Bhuvneshwar Kumar caused problems from the outset.

Nightwatchman Chris Jordan rode his luck slightly on his way to 13 and then failed to get on top of a rising bouncer from Kumar and pulled a catch to the diving Varun Aaron at midwicket.

Kumar then accounted for Bell for 58 with some fine swing bowling. Bell seemed fortunate to survive after a fine outswinger narrowly missed his outside edge but there was to be no escape as he nicked the next delivery behind to MS Dhoni.

Root did survive but he endured some awkward moments, not least when he left a Kumar delivery which almost clipped his off-stump.

Root took nine balls to get off the mark and then brought the scores level with a good push through the covers for three off Kumar.

Moeen Ali pulled Kumar for successive fours but he still seemed uncomfortable against the short ball and India continued to test him.

Root also seemed uneasy against such tactics and was struck on the helmet by Aaron, who went on to out-think Ali.

Ali managed to squirm two on the legside after again being forced onto his back foot but the next delivery was full and straight, and he played around it to lose his off-stump.

That left England 170-6, just 18 ahead.

Root and Buttler were not convincing but did survive until lunch and then began to play more freely in an attempt to force England ahead, in both the match and the series.

Root did enjoy a stroke of luck with one miscued drive off Pankaj catching the bottom of his bat, falling short of Dhoni and bouncing away for four.

A misfield by Aaron also allowed him an all-run four but legitmate boundaries were also starting to come as he moved towards a half-century.

The weather interrupted his flow, however, as the dark clouds delivered the rain they had been threatening for some time.

Afterwards, Bell said the hosts were back on track as they looked to establish a commanding position.

“It is poised very nicely,” said Bell.

“Hopefully tomorrow we can get past a 150 lead, which would put us in a nice position.

“So far it has been a great Test match, probably the best cricket wicket we have had all season –good pace, good to bat on – something there for everyone.”

Bell backed Root and Buttler to continue taking the game away from India.

He said: “Hopefully the sun is shining and it’s good to bat.

“Overheads make a big difference but they certainly are a pair that can take this game forward for us. We’ve got two good young guys there who can move this game forward for us.”

India seamer Varun Aaron believes the tourists can still haul themselves back into the match.

Aaron, who ended the day with figures of 3-48, said: “As the game is poised, England are ahead obviously, but not too much ahead.

“If we get a couple of quick wickets, even a 100-run lead is quite manageable on this wicket.

“It has changed drastically from what we saw in the first session of day one, and I am sure it will get flatter as the match progresses.”