Wed 10th April saw what seems an early start to first class cricket. My stroll down town to catch the bus to the ground saw the sun trying to peek through some damp dreary looking mist – more like a November day that early Spring. But I was encouraged to think it might brighten if the sun could burn through the low cloud!
Arriving at the Ageas Bowl gave me my first chance to see the new complex at the Northern End, which is much bigger than I imagined. I guess this means another season of building noise and I reserve judgement about the real value of this hotel – will cricket attract enough visitors to make this commercially viable? I can’t really see Hedge End as a tourist venue and I hope for the Eastleigh rate payers that I am wrong!
Other than the Northern End development, the ground was much the same. The usual faces were around for this first game and I grabbed my usual seat in The Shane Warne stand. Play got underway on time with Hants batting after having been put in by Leicestershire. It was clear that the new ball was moving about and the Hants openers were both out early in a spell of economic seam bowling by Hoggard and Wyatt, with four maidens and one ball accounting for both wickets – 0-2. What made things worse was the damp mist didn’t really lift and what little sun there was did not warm the spectators! However, a stand of 141 for the third wicket, with Dawson scoring 46 and new boy Bailey showing his worth early in the season well on his way to an excellent century until unfortunately stumped on 93, all of which provided the necessary cheer as the temperature sank lower and the sun disappeared. There is no doubt in my mind that the 10th was the coldest day I have spent at a cricket match and the low temperature meant I had to abandon any attempt to score the match (boring I know)! As can be seen on the picture to the right, it was really a day for warm hats and scarfs. Sadly, the rain eventually arrived and the game was abandoned for the day – a chance to catch up with some friends in The Atrium bar. Still we saw some good cricket, which continued into the next day.
After an early break for rain – just as I sat down – the weather also improved. Hants moved onto a very good 454-7 dec, with Vince top scoring on 148, but also good contributions from Ervine and Wheater. Even Chris Wood enjoyed throwing the bat at the bowl for a sprightly 28 before falling to the spin of Naik. The young fast bowler Wyatt had to leave the field with a shoulder injury, which he seemed to pick up early in the match when stopping a four, but rolling over the rope (just in front of me, it looked painful at the time!), but by then Leics were out of the game.
So, Leicestershire came out to bat on what was to be a long afternoon, as the umpires tried to make up the lost time, but they were quickly in trouble loosing their first five wickets for less than a hundred! Even allowing Sarwen two lives (one, surprisingly to Carberry) didn’t slow down the Hants attack and a sparkling 4-23 from Tomlinson was supported by 3-30 from Wood, with two wickets for Ervine and one for Briggs during a short spell near the end of the day. Leics were all out for only 143 and forced to follow on, which involved a tricky two overs before play ended at 7pm! What a day!
The third day was to be a typical April day – showers, some heavy. Leics started 0-0 and seemed to be showing more resistance, but the first wicket fell at 28 and wickets fell at regular intervals until a longer break for rain, which seemed to galvanize Leics into a stout defence and they moved past their first innings total. The afternoon brightened and play was uninterrupted for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, the Hants fast bowling attack looked less penetrative as the ball became softer. However, Carberry made up for that unexpected dropped catch the day before and took an excellent sharp chance at cover-point to dismiss Sarwan (ironically). Danny Briggs came to the rescue with two wickets and Vince took an excellent catch at short leg, while Wood caught Cobb. Sadly, no other wickets fell and Leics, on 182-5, were rescued by rain on day four!
So, a cold and wet start to the season, but some promising signs for the future.