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Rain, rain, go away: groundstaff fear worst on eve of new cricket season
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Rain, rain, go away: groundstaff fear worst on eve of new cricket season

“We’ve got plenty of stats on what rain we’ve had: five and a half feet on southern England in the last 18 months, nearly 800mm since October,” says Gloucestershire’s head groundsman, Sean Williams, between blotting sessions.

“If we had three dry days in a row it would give us a fighting chance … but it is constant. We’re pushing water around down here. We had two days of dry on the weekend but another downpour on Sunday night and it is back to square one.”

Williams is not alone. The county cricket head groundstaff’s Whatsapp group has been buzzing – with a couple of clubs already needing to replace the spongers on their blotting machines before the season has even started. Everyone has been avidly following the progress of Steve Manfield, Worcestershire’s head groundsman, who has had to deal with seven floods this winter, with the ground under water again last weekend.

The club had already made the decision to move initial home games to Kidderminster, but are now worried about the ground being ready for their first T20 Blast game on 31 May, and Ashley Giles, the chief executive, has raised the prospect of Worcestershire having to leave New Road in the not too distant future.

For Williams, there is another week of grace. Gloucestershire’s first home match isn’t until next week, when they entertain Yorkshire – as they did last year when the game was abandoned without a ball being bowled.

“I’m trying to be optimistic. Last year we lost the Yorkshire game after a dry February and a wet March. This year we’ve had a wet February and a wet March.”

The changing weather that ground staff are experiencing fits with the Met Office’s forecast of warmer and wetter winters and more frequent and intense weather extremes as the climate crisis cranks up. This year, the UK experienced 27% more rainfall than an average March, mostly concentrated in the south. Double the amount of rain fell in some counties, including Hampshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.

“A few of us oldies talk about the changing climate,” says Williams. “The rain is not April showers any more, there is not a set pattern any more. Wet and warm conditions lead to fungal disease and things like that, sheets are on longer and that leads to mould. We keep getting told we have to adapt, but we’re not going to put roofs on our grounds and covering them all would obviously be a massive expense.

An aerial view showing a flooded New Road last Saturday.View image in fullscreen

“The grounds suffering the most are the ones without the million pound drainage systems – the Derbys, Leicesters, Northamptons – but from Yorkshire down to Southampton, we’re all saying the same.

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“All we’ve done for the last month and a half is move sheets on and off, tip off the water and go again. It’s relentless, trying to sleep at night when you can hear the rain coming down and you dread what you’ll face in the morning.”

Rain apart, this season also features a trial of hybrid pitches and another tweak of Championship regulations. The 2023 experiment of five points for a draw goes firmly back in the box, and a draw returns to earning eight points. The batting point adjustment though remains – with teams having to score 250 before gathering any bonus points.

Bowlers will get to use the Kookaburra ball for four rounds of fixtures rather than two – two rounds in the later part of the season and two rounds in April – the first starting on Friday. The decision has provoked mixed reactions, with Surrey’s Alec Stewart telling Sky Sports: “I just don’t understand it at all, I think it’s the worst decision ever.” Durham’s Matthew Potts was more relaxed: “It’s red, it’s round and it goes down the other end.”

Source: theguardian.com