Okay, maybe not this cold, but it got seriously cold that day © Getty Images (file photo)
Okay, maybe not this cold, but it got seriously cold that day © Getty Images (file photo)

April 24, 1981. The numbing cold at Fenner’s Ground made it impossible for bowlers to grip the ball — or, for that matter, everyone to keep their eyes open. The umpires, Don Oslear and Nigel Plews, eventually decided to call the match off. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the most bizarre instances of halt in play.

Remember the “1,000 runs by May” concept in English cricket? There was a reason that cricket was seldom played in April, for it often got too cold. Indeed, official sources mention the average day temperature at Cambridgeshire in April is 13.7°C. The number is based on a period from 1981 to 2010: one can safely assume, thanks to global warming, that the day temperature used to be lower than 13.7°C in 1981.

On that day at Fenner’s — the ground that has hosted many a match from 1948 and has witnessed many a quality performance — things got cold; really cold.

It was the opening match of the 1981 summer. Keith Fletcher, leading Essex, put Cambridge in: John Lever and Neil Foster moved the ball around, but the main damage was done by Stuart Turner (4 for 20), who bowled at a slower pace, exploiting the conditions. There was a 57-run stand after Cambridge were 70 for 6, but they were eventually bowled out for 146.

The Cambridge attack was led by their captain Derek Pringle — a man who had made his First-Class debut for Essex against Cambridge three years earlier. Essex reached 158 for 3 before Pringle (4 for 56) and debutant medium-pacer Derek Hodgson (3 for 33) triggered a collapse of sorts: the Essex lead was restricted to 94.

However, Cambridge were reduced to 82 for 4 at stumps. It was going to be an uphill task from there.

Hell freezes over

Pringle lost debutant wicketkeeper Chris Goldie to Turner early next morning. This brought his new-ball partner Neil Russom to the crease. As the two settled down, things got very, very cold. To make things worse, a strong wind blew from south-east.

Pringle and Russom braved the circumstances and batted on, scoring quick runs. Batsmen and fielders all donned multiple sweaters. Pringle’s eyes kept watering, but he batted on. After an hour and a quarter Don Oslear and Nigel Plews then decided that conditions were too extreme, and had an early lunch. “The umpires called a halt, considering it unreasonable and dangerous to continue because of the extreme cold,” wrote Wisden.

Play eventually resumed. Pringle eventually fell for a brave 66, but by that time the pair had put on exactly 100. A steady drizzle persisted, and the players heaved a sigh of relief when the umpires eventually called play off with Cambridge on 204 for 6, ahead by 110.

Brief scores:

Cambridge University 146 (Stuart Turner 4 for 20) and 204 for 6 (Derek Pringle 66, Neil Russom 47; David Acfield 3 for 43) drew with Essex 240 (Michael McEvoy 53, Keith Fletcher 46; Derek Pringle 4 for 56, Ian Hodgson 3 for 33).

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