All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the field Sprawl in our press-tent, gloom quite unconcealed, Laptops and notebooks spread on tables round And from our first grey wanderings we have found No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain And the breeze that makes the canvas heave and flap And the claustral fug that makes a journo’s temper snap.
Alun Lewis’s great poem deserves vastly more respect but a drenched Guildford encourages irreverence.
The wonder this day was that we ever thought of playing. The rain which had ruled the weather since dawn ceased at around eleven o’clock but it returned within twenty minutes and mocked the groundstaff’s efforts in removing covers and hoisting practice nets. The outfield was left to the starlings and they pecked greedily at the wet earth.
Behind the pavilion clouds jostled for dominance over The Mount and the North Downs. The sky turned that darker grey which almost always presages heavy rain. The players lunched early, no doubt knowing their departure for the day would also be brought forward. Surrey skipper Rory Burns lives nearby and opted to monitor events from home. We heard rumbles of thunder. To walk around the boundary was to invite a soaking.
There were, though, signs of convivial life in the hospitality tents. Some people arrange to meet old friends on days like these – Surrey v Yorkshire still carries a certain élan – and there was no reason whatever to abandon those plans. The Surrey Dining Club prepared to feast and the southern branch of Yorkshire’s Supporters Club continued its missionary work in darkest Woking.
This is only Yorkshire’s third visit to Guildford and they have lost the other two, in 1991 and 2002. Indeed, it must be one of the few grounds in the country where they have yet to register a victory. Until, say, 1980, these counties exercised such a stranglehold on the County Championship that it would have been unthinkable to play this fixture anywhere but The Oval, where a large crowd would watch one of the biggest games of the year; as big as a Test Match, some players said.
Those battles and many others will have kept the luncheon crowds happy as they eased their present disappointment with a glass or two of the good stuff. This is the 99th first-class match at Woodbridge Road. The first was played in July 1938 when Bob Gregory took seven wickets with his leg-breaks to help Surrey defeat Hampshire by an innings. Hampshire have paid 16 further visits to Guildford, a tally rivalled only by Sussex, who have played here 14 times.
Early afternoon. The rain has abated to heavy drizzle. On the square, the already sopping groundstaff are weighing down the covers. A cherry and blue South Western Trains service rumbles across the railway bridge on the far side of the ground. It is easily the most brightly coloured object anyone has seen all day.
Elsewhere in England, play was abandoned for the day on some grounds – both of the other Division One matches between Nottinghamshire and Hamphire and Kent and Somerset – among them. Important games are going to be wrecked over the next four days. Peter Roebuck once described cricket in England as “a dry game in a wet land.”
On the other hand, “the sun’ll come out tomorrow,” wrote the lyricist Martin Charnin. This week no one is betting even their topmost dollar on it.