England and Australia woke up on Friday morning with the knowledge that one of them would almost certainly see their World T20 hopes evaporate before the end of the day, but in the end the key issue was evaporation. The match, which was due to start at 7pm, was eventually abandoned less than two hours later, allowing both sides to continue to dream of a semi-final for at least a few more days.
After the better part of four days of non-stop rain, it seemed the teams were less likely to have to deal with losses than galoshes. But when the covers were removed from the pitch around 7pm – to loud cheers from the fans, for whom it was, in fact, the most exciting action they had witnessed all day – and the caretakers began a frenzied half-hour of wetting and mopping there was the prospect of cricket, rather than continuous rain, in the air.
But two pitch inspections took place and ended before the rain returned, minutes before the third was scheduled, and all hope ended. As such, Group One remains wide open, with the Ireland-Afghanistan fixture in the afternoon having been called off and all participating teams having been awarded one point. England are second in the group behind New Zealand in terms of total runs, one of four teams with three points along with Australia and Ireland. The Kiwis face Sri Lanka in Sydney on Saturday, with no rain forecast.
After this game, attention will shift to Brisbane ahead of the crucial 48 hours. Ireland play Australia on Monday, Afghanistan play Sri Lanka and England face New Zealand on Tuesday. Weather in Queensland, about 1,000 miles north-east of Melbourne, is expected to be warm and dry throughout next week, apart from a few hours of rain on Tuesday morning.
The cancellations mean that of the five matches currently scheduled in Melbourne, only one has gone ahead as planned, with one other game – Ireland win against England – achieving the result despite the reduced rain. Two more matches are scheduled in the city: the final game of Group Two between India and Zimbabwe on November 6 and the final itself a week later.
“The weather has been so bad – ever since it started raining against England it just hasn’t stopped,” Ireland’s Andrew Belbirnie said after their game was called off. “It’s just so wet out there. You come to Australia thinking you won’t need a hoodie or a raincoat, but since we arrived three or four weeks ago things have been different. But it’s out of control, so we’re not too worried about it.”
Although October is usually Melbourne’s wettest month, this spring the city – and much of Australia’s east coast – experienced a strange confluence of weather events: the Indian Ocean Dipole, the Southern Annular Mode and La Niña. when strong trade winds blow west across the Pacific.
“We’ve been in quite a wet period for a while in Victoria and along eastern Australia – there’s been flooding from Queensland to Tasmania,” Christy Johnson, senior meteorologist at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, told the Guardian. “It’s quite common to have a lot of weather systems pass through Victoria in the spring, but this year is unusual by historical standards. Three climate factors combine to create a perfect storm.”
Meteorologists have been predicting an unusually wet spring for several months. But the nature of the rain that fell on the tournament was also unusual, with Melbourne having seen rain for much of the last four days. “We have more showers that can be a little more thundery than steady rainfall,” Johnson said. “It’s more a feature of the tropical moisture that’s lingering over Victoria. This is what you see more often over Queensland where there is more moisture in the air. Our climate is drier, and it’s unusual for tropical moisture to come this far south.”
However, with the announcement of adverse conditions months in advance, tournament organizers had one fallback option they could turn to. About three kilometers east of the MCG is the lesser-known Marvel Stadium. Given its prestigious close neighbour, it only hosts the occasional cricket game, but a total of 24 men’s ODIs have been played there, as well as five matches in the upcoming Big Bash League season. The highest attendance for a cricket game is 44,316. Remarkably, of the nine men’s internationals played in Australia in October so far this year, a third have been there. Marvel Stadium has a retractable roof that, according to the website, “ensures events are held in ideal conditions, regardless of the weather outside.”