Hey Lanky Lanky ............................
Being one of those rather sad people who work harder than they should do despite, increasingly, not really needing to, I don't get to see too much live cricket. I've been to a few days of Test cricket over the years, the occasional ODI and List A match (including a couple of memorable Lords finals in the early 90's), but until this season I had not been to a day's County Championship cricket for more than a quarter of a century. This wasn't for want of trying on the part of others - several days have been arranged but something always got in the way and when my brother David, a couple of months ago, organised a day at the Rose Bowl for the first day of Hampshire's home game against Lancashire, I don't suppose he really expected it to happen.
This time however there was no conspiracy and at close of business on Wednesday 28th July I was able to confirm the great day out was on. A mutually satisfactory arrangement had been negotiated whereby I provided the transport and David provided lunch, and a weighty bag it was too. I left sunny Reading at 9.00 am to pick my sibling up which I did, from equally sunny Wokingham, twenty minutes or so later. Despite a total failure on David's part to fully appreciate the significance of road works located within a very short distance of where he lived, we still got to the M3 in plenty of time to ensure arrival at the ground by start of play. Our journey down was full of invigorating conversation consisting mainly, in the early part, of complaining about our wives and children. There is, I always find, a perverse satisfaction to be gained from the knowledge that one is not alone in having to deal with occasional bouts of domestic strife, and we succeeded in reassuring each other that if not all, then at least most, was well on our respective home fronts.
We then, as the M27 beckoned, turned to two more pressing matters. The first was whether we were going to use the large car park next to the Rose Bowl or, in order to save a couple of quid, park on a nearby housing estate and walk half a mile to the ground. We agreed that at our age the benefits of a brisk walk, bearing in mind the amount we would be eating, had to be our first priority, so I passed on the opportunity to part with another fiver. We also had to make a decision on what we wanted to see inside the ground. Personally I was keen to see Saj Mahmood bowling, or perhaps it was just that I didn't want to see Lancashire's brittle batting collapse in a heap, particularly as we knew that Stephen Moore, after his nasty injury in the T20 quarter final, would certainly not be playing. We settled for Lancashire batting most of the day for a brisk 350 and Saj to put Jimmy Adams and Michael Carberry back in the hutch before the close.
As we entered the ground, after a rather longer walk than expected, the players were already on their way out. I suppose we could have asked someone who won the toss but we chose instead to spend time off and on all day speculating. I was a little surprised to finally learn that it was Glen Chapple who called correctly - I think I would have inserted Hampshire as the clouds gathered overhead, but clearly Chappy had more faith in our batting than I did.
As Tom Smith and Paul Horton began they did little to make us believe our prediction would come to fruition. Smith, with his open stance, simply doesn't look like an opener and while Horton looked solid enough the start was very slow. As feared Smith, who never looked happy, departed for just two after half an hour. His replacement Mark Chilton, clearly unhappy at the ball darting around for the Hampshire seamers, didn't inspire great confidence either but Horton, the Australian born Liverpudlian, looked like he might be gearing up for a major innings. It was a blow when Horton slashed hard at Hampshire's first change David Balcombe, a man whose run up promises rather more pace than it delivers, and Neil McKenzie made a very difficult slip catch look entirely straightforward. It came as no surprise when six runs later Sean Ervine, Hampshire's ball polisher, had the still unsettled Chilton caught behind, and at 41-3 Lancashire were deep in trouble.
The sight of Shivnarine Chanderpaul at one end now became a source of considerable comfort. As ever he looked in no hurry but at least had an air of permanence as did, as the overs ticked by, Steven Croft. Like Horton Croft had, two or three seasons ago, been tipped for great things, but had since seemed to lose his way. If the day was to be salvaged for Lancashire he needed to bat well now and, in fairness to him, he applied himself to the task in hand. Progress was slow up until lunch, but 65 for 3 from 29 overs was considerably better than it might have been, and the clouds were thinning and blue sky and sunshine obviously on their way for the afternoon.
It was at this point that the Lancashire contingent began to feel restless. Comfort eating had begun as soon as Chilton was dismissed and just a few scraps had been put by for later so a walk around the ground was called for. There is a very modern but ultimately unfinished feel to the Rose Bowl. I presume that the intention eventually is to have stands all around the ground and it will be the better for it. Under the two existing stands are a large number of big screens so the Test could be viewed, although it seemed not to be a particularly popular distraction. That was possibly because there was no sound although I couldn't see why there shouldn't be. More importantly I was a little irritated that the intervals occurred at exactly the same time in both games - I am sure that the playing conditions at the Rose Bowl could have been altered to allow at least some interval Test watching - I have emailed my suggestion and await a response, but won't hold my breath.
One positive feature is that all paying guests have at least a degree of access to the pavilion and a very impressive building it is too. Light, airy, and no dress code in the areas I visited. That's not to say I liked it much, because I didn't particularly, but my complaints would find favour with relatively few. There was some historical memorabilia on display but nothing like as much as there could or should have been and the greatest crime of all, for me anyway, was the absence of a bookshop. A further bibliographical irritation arose out of the fact that it is Hampshire's Billy Taylor's benefit season, yet no one could tell me whether there even was a benefit brochure, let alone where I might be able to buy one.
When we left the pavilion the sun was out so it was into the upper tier of one of the stands to watch the afternoon session and, at last, Lancashire started to look comfortable. Cork employed some odd tactics against Chanderpaul for some time deploying a fine leg and a deep square leg without his bowlers actually dropping anything short. Later, after Chanderpaul had played a few leg glances, he sent in a leg slip whereupon everything thereafter seemed to pitch outside off stump. Amidst all this seemingly eccentric field placing (an elaborate double bluff was all David and I could conclude) we moved down to the front of the stand to get a different perspective. Hampshire's 19 year old slow left armer Danny Briggs then embarked on a crusade to ruin my view standing on the fine leg/third man boundary in my line of sight - I moved a few seats round and he seemed to follow me - it was a frustating twenty minutes or so before Captain Cork, surely noticing my discomfiture, finally gave the young man a bowl. He looked to me a lot like Stuart Broad, albeit a good deal shorter, but I did notice he seemed to have disproportionately large hands and long fingers and must therefore be capable of giving a cricket ball one hell of a tweak.
It was to be Briggs who made the breakthrough, Croft chopping the ball on. Poor old Croft had been looking good and the ball went so slowly into his stumps he surely had time to kick it away, but sadly his reactions were not quick enough. Lancashire's number six was reserve keeper Gareth Cross, a decent bat to my mind, but unfortunately his stay was a short one as he was caught behind, again off Briggs, after getting off the mark with a boundary. Next in was Luke Sutton, a man whose batting I must confess to having often criticised from afar, and I have always championed Cross's cause over his. Just to show how wrong I can be he proceeded to look as solid as a rock and certainly not as negative as I expected. He and Chanderpaul survived the wobble and moved serenely towards tea at which point we had a comedy moment. I had noticed that Michael Carberry appeared to be turning his arm over in the covers and sure enough Cork called on him just before the interval. He paced out a short run up, which he then ignored as he walked a couple of paces before turning his arm over with his off breaks. I was expecting a typical village green "whirlyman" but despite that most leisurely of approaches he actually brought his arm over very quickly and the expected fireworks did not materialise, Chanderpaul and Sutton both being far too shrewd to fall for that one, and tea was taken at 170-5.
After tea Sutton and Chanderpaul carried on until Balcombe moved one away from Sutton, caught the edge, and gave Vince at slip a straightforward chance. With that dismissal, at 204, Chapple came to the crease and, for once, showed no urgency and was content to leave much of the strike to Chanderpaul. The diminutive West Indian scored all but 9 of the 42 added for the seventh wicket, and in doing so looked considerably more aggressive than he had before the interval. The most entertaining over was undoubtedly the 87th, delivered by Captain Cork to Captain Chapple, which bristled with aggression. The fun started with Chapple playing an exaggerated forward defensive stroke and, his shot complete, remaining in position and fixing his gaze on the bowler. Not to be outdone Cork, on reaching the end of his follow through, also held position and glared back. For what seemed like an age, but can only have been a few seconds, these two wily old campaigners tried to stare each other down. Later in the over Chapple played back, and a perfect delivery from Cork clipped the top of the stumps only for the Umpire to call the bowler for overstepping. The home skipper, not surprisingly a little riled, then found the inevitable extra yard of pace and from the very next delivery caught Chapple's outside edge and young Vince took a fine low catch at slip. For once perfectly positioned, it was obvious to me the catch was good, but the temperature on and off the field ratcheted up a notch as Chapple stayed put, clearly questioning whether the ball had carried to Vince. The umpires conferred and, for a few seconds, it seemed that Chapple might get away with it again, before the finger went up and he trudged disconsolately off towards the pavilion.
With Chapple gone Saj Mahmood, Lancashire's saviour with the bat on more than one occasion this season, came to the crease. Every other Lancashire batsman had towered over Chanderpaul but with Saj the height difference was almost incongruous. I would not be surprised if the reason for Chanderpaul's lapse of concentration, that saw him caught behind off the tireless Cork three runs later, was ricking his neck during their mid wicket conference. With that dismissal Saj was joined by young slow left armer Simon Kerrigan and the Lancashire innings was clearly drawing to its close and I began to hope that the last run needed to bring up the 250, and another batting point, would quickly arrive, the last two wickets fall, and we would see a couple of overs of the Hampshire innings before stumps. Saj's first scoring shot was a big six over midwicket, just a swat really, but after that he went into his shell and the ninth wicket pair were happy to bat out time.
By this time David and I had taken up a couple of seats in front of the pavilion and I suddenly realised we were going to be within touching distance of the players as they came off. First it was the batsmen and the tall figure of Mahmood, prematurely greying at the temples nowadays, but still looking every inch the powerful professional athlete that he is. Then it was Hampshire's turn and a very tired looking Dominic Cork. Until he was released by Lancashire I was never a great fan of Cork's but he has gone up in my estimation since leaving and did so all the more now. Clearly keen to get back to the dressing room he nonetheless signed everything that was put in front of him and also stopped to have his photograph taken with a young fan before signing off with a gesture towards the visitor's dressing room that suggested to me, that whatever resentment he might feel towards the Lancashire committee, he still has friends amongst the playing staff. It must also speak volumes for Cork's popularity with Hampshire that despite the presence of England T20 World Cup winner Michael Lumb, and fringe Test player Carberry, he was the only Hampshire player the youngsters seemed interested in.
Lancashire were 262-8 at the close. It was a lot better than it might have been but, against a decent batting lineup on home soil not, in my view, enough, but sadly I would not be there for the second day to see. One thing that I am certain about though is that it will not be another quarter of a century before I attend a County Championship match again. Limited overs cricket has its place but for me, and everyone else who was at the Rose Bowl, and despite all the one man and his dog jokes there must have been around 1,000 of us, there isn't really any comparison. Proper cricket is the First Class game - anything else is a pale imitation.
Over the remaining three days of the match very little time was lost through rain and bad light, but despite having the greater part of four full days at their disposal the fourth innings never began and both sides had to settle for a draw. Lancashire's tail wagged briefly on the second morning before Cork wrapped the innings up to finish with 4-57. Had Luke Sutton taken a chance at the wicket offered by Jimmy Adams when he was 18 (he went on to make 72) then, with Michael Carberry being castled by Chapple in the first over of the innings, Lancashire might have had a sniff of victory. As it was they chipped away at the Hampshire batting but could not prevent the home side taking a first innings lead of 86, much of which was down to what must have been a particulary satisfying unbeaten half century from Cork, to go with his four wicket haul. When, in the afternoon session of the third day, Lancashire began their second innings they had no chance of victory but could easily have lost. That they played out time comfortably was largely due to Smith and Cross taking advantage of a wicket that was, apparently, much more benign than when David and I saw it, and recording centuries, in Cross's case his first at First Class level.