England and Australia awoke on Friday morning in the knowledge that one of them would almost certainly see their T20 World Cup hopes evaporate before the day was out, but in the end it was the evaporation of water that became the key issue. Scheduled to begin at 7pm, the match was eventually abandoned a little under two hours later, allowing both sides to continue dreaming of the semi-finals for a few more days at least.
After the best part of four days’ constant rainfall it felt like an occasion when the teams would be less likely to have to deal with losses than galoshes. But when the covers were peeled off the pitch at about 7pm – to loud cheers from fans for whom this was by a margin the most exciting action they had witnessed all day – and the groundskeepers embarked on a frenzied half-hour of soaking and mopping there was the prospect of cricket, rather than incessant drizzle, in the air.
But two pitch inspections came and went before, a few minutes before a scheduled third, the rain returned and all hope ended. So Group One remains completely open, with the match between Ireland and Afghanistan abandoned in the afternoon and all teams involved awarded one point. England stand second in the group, behind New Zealand on net run rate, 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 that game attention will move to Brisbane ahead of a crucial 48 hours. Ireland are scheduled to play Australia on Monday, while Afghanistan play Sri Lanka and England face New Zealand on Tuesday. The weather in Queensland, about 1,000 miles north-east of Melbourne, is expected to be warm and dry for all of the next week, except for a few hours of rainfall on Tuesday morning.
The abandonments mean that of the five matches so far scheduled to be played in Melbourne only one has gone ahead as planned, with one other game – Ireland’s win against England – reaching a result despite being abbreviated by rain. Two more matches are planned for the city: the final game in Group Two between India and Zimbabwe on 6 November, and the final itself a week later.
“The weather has just been so bad – since it started raining in the England game it just hasn’t stopped,” said Ireland’s Andrew Balbirnie after their game was called off. “It’s just so wet out there. You do come to Australia thinking you won’t need a hoodie or a rain jacket, but it’s certainly been different since we arrived three or four weeks ago. But it’s not a controllable so we don’t get too worked up about it.”
Though October is normally the wettest month in Melbourne, this spring the city – and much of the east coast of Australia – has been dealing with a freak confluence of meteorological phenomena: the Indian Ocean Dipole, the Southern Annular Mode, and La Niña, when strong trade winds blow west across the Pacific Ocean.
“We have been in a pretty wet period for a while in Victoria and right along Eastern Australia – there’s been flooding from Queensland to Tasmania,” Christie Johnson, a senior meteorologist at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, told the Guardian. “It’s quite common in spring to get a lot of weather systems coming through Victoria, but this year is unusual by historical standards. The three climate drivers together are combining to give us the perfect storm.”
Meteorologists have been forecasting an unusually wet spring for several months. But the nature of the rain that has dogged the tournament has also been unusual, with Melbourne being doused in drizzle for most of the last four days. “We tend to get more stop-start showers, potentially a bit more thunderstormy, rather than constant rainfall,” Johnson said. “That’s more a feature of the tropical moisture being dragged down over Victoria. It’s something you would more commonly see over Queensland where there’s moisture in the air. We tend to have a drier climate, and it’s unusual to get the tropical moisture coming this far south.”
However with several months’ notice of inclement conditions, tournament organisers did have one back-up option they might have turned to. About three kilometres east of the MCG lies the less well-known Marvel Stadium. Given its prestigious near-neighbour it hosts only occasional cricket games, but a total of 24 men’s ODIs have been played there, as will five matches in the forthcoming Big Bash League season. Its highest attendance for a cricket game is 44,316. Tellingly, of nine men’s international games played in Australia in October before this year, a third of them were there. Marvel Stadium has a retractable roof that, according to its website, “ensures that events proceed in perfect conditions, no matter what the weather conditions outside”.