A tropical storm currently brewing in the Bay of Bengal has the potential to interrupt Australia’s semifinal at Eden Gardens, potentially gifting South Africa their first ever Cricket World Cup final appearance.
The 2023 tournament has passed through the group stage without a single game being abandoned.
The relatively dry conditions, unlike the 2019 edition when four games were declared a no result, has been partially just good fortune — late wet season rains across India have managed to dodge the tournament’s fixtures, aided by the drying influence of El Niño.
But now at the very tail end of the Indian wet season, rain is on the forecast for Thursday’s knockout match at Eden Gardens, and there is slim chance it could prevent the minimum of 20 overs per side required to constitute a match.
Unfortunately for five-time champions Australia, if enough rain falls, and it continues into the reserve day on Friday, South Africa will automatically qualify for Sunday’s final due to finishing higher on the group stage points table.
So how likely is an abandoned game during a typically dry November in Kolkata?
The chances of a no result depend solely on the position of low-pressure system approaching Kolkata from the south.
Computer modelling is currently forecasting the low, which on Tuesday was entering the south-east Bay of Bengal, to merge with a low near Sri Lanka — then track slowly north through Wednesday and Thursday and cause a broad region of rain to spread up towards Kolkata on Thursday afternoon.
What makes the forecast complex is the city is right on the low’s periphery, meaning it’s located on the edge of the rain field.
One the hardest forecasts is predicting precipitation near the very boundary of a weather system, since a small change in a cell’s position could be the difference between no rain and persistent heavy falls.
Take this scenario from the European Union’s modelling which drops hundreds of millimetres just south of Kolkata and almost no rain to the city’s west and north.
A slight error in the modelling would take the heavy rain directly over Kolkata while a shift south could result in a full 50 over game on Thursday.
South Africa’s painful history
South Africa has a long and painful history of rain in knockout games at the World Cup.
That includes the infamous 1992 semifinal at the Sydney Cricket Ground, when a rain rule changed their target of 22 from 13 balls to an impossible 22 from 1, after they failed to bowl their 50 overs in the allocated time.
In an elimination game against Sri Lanka in 2003 they misinterpreted the rain-reduced total by one run.
The Proteas’ 2015 semifinal loss against New Zealand was also impacted by rain and was ultimately lost on the penultimate ball.