Dan Whiting reveals how the weather forecast is at the centre of one of the game’s greatest, and most long-lasting, conundrums
Last Friday, as rain, hail and even snow lashed the cricket pitches of our green and pleasant land, numerous club cricketers were holed up in public houses, bars and at home having a couple of pre-match drinks.
For some, the quiet Friday night turned into a more boisterous affair and as one or two ‘liveners’ turned into seven or eight, the hopes and prayers turned from wishing for a run about on a Saturday afternoon, to selling your soul to the devil in the hope that the game is called off.
For those of us in the know, this is called Playing the Rain Card.
The Rain Card is the gamble of boozing heavily on a Friday night in the hope that your Saturday is washed out by rain. It is a card played throughout club cricket and has been for a number of years. It will, no doubt, be played for a number of years in the future, too.
It is not just those of us of an amateur level who wish to gamble with their averages. At Centurion Park in South Africa a few years ago, South Africa played England in a game that became infamous for being fixed by Hansie Cronje. After South Africa batted on the first day, rain well known to those who have visited this continent poured down for three days.
With the ground under water and thinking that it would be a wash-out, numerous visiting England players took themselves off to various watering holes in the Pretoria region and proceeded to get, in what’s known as layman’s terms, shedded.
One of the aforementioned players was Darren Gough, who had been out drinking with Ian Woosnam. ‘Woosie’ wasn’t just the nickname that the golfer went by as Gough had to play through a torrid time.
Without knowing that the opposition captain was desperate for a result, as he admitted afterwards for a few rand and a leather jacket, Gough woke up in horror as the rain clouds had disappeared and the submerged ground was drying out rapidly. With a hangover thumping his head under a hot African sun, the bowler just about made it onto the field of play having removed the contents of the previous night’s excesses and was made to bowl by a furious Nasser Hussain.
Luckily for the Barnsley quick, Cronje did a deal where he declared and after negotiations to forfeit the innings, Gough actually ended up hitting the winning runs.
He wasn’t the only one.
Phil Tufnell was well known for a fist- pumping action and the cry of “Yessss” as he watched the weather forecast with rain predicted for the following day. Tufnell’s nights out were regularly planned around the meteorological forecasts in their length and timing and he was a regular purveyor of the Rain Card. Tuffers would go and drink like a fish if dictated by Michael Fish, so one Middlesex regular would often remark.
Andrew Flintoff when England skipper in Australia was allegedly another who played the Rain Card, whilst Ian Botham just played the card, no matter the weather; taking the best player from the opposition with him apparently, with full intentions of getting him in no state to be at his professional best the following day.
Others from the Botham era haven’t been so lucky with their gambles, though. A John Player League game at Cheltenham College in the mid-Eighties between Gloucestershire and Leicestershire has been talked about in cricketing circles for years. A lunchtime downpour of biblical proportions sent the players of both sides scuttling for the sponsors’ tents and with the ground under water they took full advantage of the hospitality on offer. The likes of David Gower got a liking for the fine wines on offer, yet to his chagrin the umpires came in a couple of hours later and announced that they would be having a ten-over thrash in an hour or so if no more rain came down.
Having changed into whites and tried to sober, sorry, warm up, one Gloucestershire fielder was a casualty as a high catch hit him straight between the eyes. The watching Andy Stovold who was there with his family on a Sunday afternoon jaunt was press-ganged into action. Allegedly, he was the only sober player on the ground.
When the game finally started, Gower allegedly tried to sweep the first ball and promptly fell over to much hilarity from all of those in the know. Apparently, it wasn’t his most graceful innings.
The result of the game can’t even be remembered by those who played but this game is infamous in Rain Card circles.
For the club cricketer, he often doesn’t know if his Rain Card was worth playing.
Cunning cricket committees up and down the country often won’t call a game off until the last minute, hoping that the boys will stay in the bar. Despite games being totally unplayable by 5pm on a Friday afternoon, there have been some clubs who still insist on their players arriving at the ground at midday.
They do this knowing full well that the less disciplined members of the side will part with their hard-earned cash over the club bar. Naturally this is all done in the art of ‘team bonding’ and good club men will start proceedings by plonking a jug on the table. This brings other gambles into play and one that has resulted in at least one divorce. This is the downright lying to one’s partner about your whereabouts on a Saturday afternoon.
Many a club cricketer will have been picked up by their partner on a Saturday evening having spent the previous six or seven hours with his team-mates in the club bar. This is despite the fact that his wife or girlfriend thinks he has been playing. The quote of “we ummed and ahhed, had a look and then it rained even more”, breathed through a cauldron-like fume of seven pints has been quoted to many a young lady by the club player in a desperate attempt to get out of being dragged around a retail park whilst his game has been washed out.
The more cunning clubbie will wash his whites in a puddle by the club bar to try and outfox his partner, whilst at one Hertfordshire club a well-known trick of going to get the rope in, whilst dressed in whites is a way of getting them dirty and giving the impression that the chaps have played.
Certain clubs I know have a policy that no reports of games being abandoned should be put on social media. This comes from both the club itself and the players. Youngsters are admonished and warned that in no circumstances should this be mentioned on Facebook, Twitter or other avenues to the outside world and, by doing so, this is letting your team-mates down.
For the experienced Rain Card player, there is nothing worse than Friday night rain with sunshine forecast for a Saturday morning. This is a lottery, the equivalent of an opening batsman grinding it out on a difficult wicket or a bowler having to bowl line and length on a road. Only the very best get this right.
So the Rain Card is a difficult one to judge. It is an art and has various derivations as we see from the above. As the saying goes: “If you dance with the devil, you will get burned.”
I am sure there are plenty of club players who will feel the heat this summer.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday April 29 2016