You need more than a pot of gravy to stop a rampant Muttiah Muralitharan (third from left) © Getty Images
You need more than a pot of gravy to stop a rampant Muttiah Muralitharan (third from left) © Getty Images

A pot of gravy held up play at Old Trafford shortly after lunch on June 18, 2007. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of the most bizarre reasons for disruption in play.

Over years cricket matches have been stopped by earthquakes, snakes, stoats, penguins, (fried) calamari, solar eclipses, lost balls, riots, pitch invasions, sandstorms, and streakers, among other not-so-obvious aspects. But even then, a pot of gravy (we are not discussing Labon Kenneth Blackburn Leeweltine Buckonon Benjamin here)? Who would have thunk?

It was one of those regulation Old Trafford matches. The hosts piled up runs despite the usual Manchester gloom after Stuart Law decided to bat. Iain Sutcliffe and Paul Horton saw off the new-ball attack of Yasir Arafat and Andrew Hall and added 71 in an hour-and-a-half before Simon Cook struck. Sutcliffe and Mal Loye saw them off till stumps with Lancashire finishing on 164 for 1.

Ryan McLaren removed Sutcliffe early on Day Two, which brought Brad Hodge to the crease. He immediately took control of the situation, and carved out 156 not out in 200 balls (his hundred had come up in 132 balls) with 14 fours and a six. There was support at the other end from Loye and Law and a few lusty blows from Dominic Cork before Law declared the innings closed at 451 for 5. Kent had time to reach 14 without loss.

James Anderson claimed 2 early wickets next morning, and though Cork broke down and was ruled out of the rest of the match, he dismissed Matt Walker and Joe Denly before he left. Then Muttiah Muralitharan took over, and though Geraint Jones stood amidst the ruins he could not help Kent reach the 302-run mark. Bowled out for 272 Kent had to follow on and finished the day on 7 without loss. Murali finished with 4 for 73.

There was always the “danger” of Anderson being called up for England (in which case he would have to pull out of the rest of the match; Oliver Newby was kept ready for the occasion), but that did not happen. Opening bowling in lieu of Cork, Tom Smith took out Denly early while Anderson removed Robert Key. Kent were left reeling at 58 for 3 when Murali snared Walker: they still required 121 to save innings defeat. They went to lunch 3 wickets down with Martin van Jaarsveld and Darren Stevens holding fort.

Fire!

It happened shortly after lunch. Stevens and van Jaarsveld were determined to pull Kent out of danger when there was a commotion from the dressing-room. The bemused fielders and Kent batsmen saw the pavilion being evacuated. Play obviously came to a halt, and no apparent reason could be traced.

Two fire engines rushed to the ground within minutes. By then news had gone out that there has been smoke in the pavilion. Was there fire as well? Who could tell? They watched firemen rush into the pavilion. Lancashire were already aware of the rain threat, but what was this?

The culprit turned out to be, of all things, a pot of overcooked gravy. The gravy had burnt, and the smoke had set the fire alarm off; play was held up for quite some time. This was apparently not the first time fire engines had rushed to Old Trafford during a match: as a fire officer said, a cricketer had burnt his toast in the dressing-room.

Kent had thought they had managed to cook up a draw; instead, they went from frying pan to furnace as Murali scythed through them in no time. He finished with 4 for 72, Gary Keedy took 2 quick wickets with his left-arm spin, and Kent, after being 158 for 3, found themselves in a soup (uh-oh) and were bowled out for 190.

With Lancashire requiring a mere 12, Cook opened bowling and removed both openers, but Lancashire reached the target in 17 balls with 8 wickets in hand.

What followed?

Lancashire finished third on the league, behind Sussex and Durham. Kent finished seventh, just above Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

Brief scores:

Lancashire 451 for 5 decl. (Brad Hodge 156 not out, Mal Loye 75, Stuart Law 58, Iain Sutcliffe 57, Dominic Cork 40 not out) and 12 for 2 beat Kent 272 (Joe Denly 77, Geraint Jones 70; Muttiah Muralitharan 4 for 73, James Anderson 3 for 64) and 190 (Martin van Jaarsveld 85, Darren Stevens 55; Muttiah Muralitharan 4 for 72) by 8 wickets.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)