Several summers past I was sat in Barcelona’s busy yet attractive Placa Reial gazing at the enclosed nature of the area and the buildings that surround the square itself. Naturally, one’s mind began to wonder (and wander). One subject comes to the fore: who or what reside behind the myriad of closed shutters on the three storeys above the colonnaded surrounds at ground level. Some will possibly be used by the restaurants and bars that occupy the ground level whilst others may be part of the buildings on nearby thoroughfares but one is drawn into pondering whether any of the shuttered windows look in on apartments and dwellings. One cannot help ponder as to who lives in such regal surrounds with beautiful vistas of la Placa, their lives and their part in the great, grand Barcelona existence. Where do they venture of a morn for a coffee and work or of an evening for a meal or of a weekend for entertainment? The vast swathe of shutters arguably increases the curiosity. The almost infinite number of questions and the polar opposite lack of answers similarly promotes further mental perambulations. In an internet, media driven age where the answers to many a question are at the click of a mouse or a few key strokes on a mobile phone or tablet, the dearth of available information is paradoxically refreshing and pleasing. Despite the unanswered questions, amongst the litany of tourists and restaurants there remains a sense of home about the placa’s surrounds.
Such a sense resides along the boundary edges of Hartley Wintney Cricket Club. The differences between a busy square in the second largest city in Spain and a tranquil north Hampshire village are, naturally, pronounced but one begins to ask those same questions pondered upon when stood in the Placa Reial. Because lining a large section of this beautiful village ground are a fine selection of houses and dwellings that lie cheek by jowl with the local cricket club; just a small stretch of macadam separating the boundary from the fences, hedges and front gardens. Hence, similar ponderings to those originally undertaken in Barcelona’s famous Placa Reial: who lives in these houses? Do they take a short bimble across the macadam of a late afternoon and evening and watch the play? Do they even like cricket and is the threat of a ball landing in their front garden or clattering through one of their windows a constant menace each summer? Whatever the responses to these unanswered questions, there is a sense of intimacy to the location. The strive for community lives long as the world shrinks under the media onslaught and such locales provide a hint of what that strive searches for with zeal. Dare one mention such a notion but there is a hint of Midsomer Murders about the scene; road names such as Hartford Terrace, Cricket Green Lane and Mount Pleasant enhancing that ambience. The M3 motorway may roar away towards London just a couple of miles to the south but this corner of northern Hampshire, for a first time visitor, possesses a sense of homeliness and intimacy.
Home is certainly on the agenda for the afternoon’s cricket, as humble Hartney Wintney plays host to an intriguing T20 contest between the club itself and the Shaun Udal All-Stars XI, a charity match in support of Dove House School and the Brain Tumour Charity. Udal himself played some of his formative cricket a few miles up the A30 at Camberley and could thus be considered to be (almost) on home territory. He has brought a fine selection of ex-county and international players for this line-up, including Matthew Hoggard, Chris Tremlett, Tim Murtagh, Jimmy Adams, Michael Brown and David Griffiths to provide a strong Hampshire flavor to this near rural part of the county.
Cricket and home may possess an inherent cheek by jowl existence in England, particularly in rural climes, but cricket and weather possess a similarly symbiotic relationship. Thus, the threat of rain in the lead-up to the big day itself leads to the inevitable cautious glances with furrowed brows at the forecast proffered by the various web sites. The initial offering is for light rain at 4 o’clock in the afternoon but the weather map indicates no significant blue blobs in the Hartley Wintney area at that juncture of the afternoon and one can almost sense a collective sigh of relief that the match will hopefully not be affected significantly. Rain is part and parcel of the cricket experience in a many a locale but its effect on this type of contest is particularly harsh. Lose some time at the test match or a county game and such a loss is indeed disappointing but the loss of part or all of the type of charity contest on offer this afternoon proves particularly sad due to the one off nature of the match and those benefiting from its existence.
With an hour or so to pass before the game is due to begin I elect to take a wander around the corner from the cricket ground to the centre of Hartley Wintney village. Such is the nature of cricket and the times of the match that one regularly visits other cities, towns and villages but rarely gets the opportunity to explore the locale at large. Thus, a quick bimble away from the ground itself proves most palatable. The main road through the locale proves a busy affair but the High Street possesses a number of pleasant artisan, independent shops which prove so pleasing in an increasingly homogenous world. The old-school sweet shop catches one’s attention on a second bimble later in the day and a bag cola bottles prove particularly welcome during the second innings of the match.
Shaun Udal’s popularity as a cricketer and a local(ish) celebrity in this province of north Hampshire is no better illustrated than by the impressive turnout for the occasion. With an hour still to elapse prior to the match itself Hartley Wintney’s beautiful ground is ringed with gazebos under which expectant spectators wait whilst a number of shops in the nearby High Street feature flyers advertising the match in their windows. Barbeques sizzle away wafting alluring smells across the ether whilst a Pimms tent offers summer refreshments. Further gazebos appear in a handful of the front gardens of the terraced houses that head toward the pavilion amid a generally convivial atmosphere as the sound of popping corks begins to resonate. One of the neighbouring dwellings is aptly named ‘Innings’ whilst another has erected a not insignificant net to protect the front windows. The family next door sit outside under parasols ready for the match to begin. The match may be taking place under leaden skies, scudding clouds and threat of rain but the atmosphere is of enjoyment and anticipation. One aspect of the scene has become very much apparent though. As beautiful as the Hartley Wintney ground is on the eye, one almost instantly notices that the playing area is very much on the bijoux side. One wonders whether some of the more exuberant players might have to hold back from playing their most lusty shots?
All of which soon becomes rather irrelevant as light rain arrives some half an hour before the start. Somewhat amusingly, the public address announcer keenly announces that “It’s not raining!” a couple of times but even his positive outlook is soon checked as the precipitation becomes rather persistent. Most hunker under gazebos or retreat back to the considerable marquee flanking one side of the ground as thoughts ponder as to whether any cricket will actually take place, particularly as the public address announcer remains quiet for an uncomfortably long period of time.
The weather eventually improves but it claims an hour of play, reducing the match to a dozen overs per side, particularly as further bad weather is predicted for the late afternoon / early evening passage. The public address announcer returns and announces that host Udal has won the ‘toss’ (although the coin did not actually land on the ground or in a palm before Udal had apparently declared that his team would batfirst!) and the All-Stars open with current Hampshire favourite Jimmy Adams and former Hampshire player Michael Brown. With such a short number of overs the openers look to attack but both Adams and Brown are quickly castled in the pursuit of boundaries. Adams’ Hampshire team-mate Ian Holland achieves where the openers failed with a fine collection of lofted sixes and deft fours over the short boundaries though. One six sails over the whitewash and clatters onto the roof of the neighbouring house at long-on, answering an earlier mental pondering.
Udal’s All-Stars pass fifty in 6th over and the man himself enters the fray at the fall of the third wicket. An accomplished batsman himself, Udal pushes a quick single but is then uncharitably caught in the deep off of the next delivery he faces. In contrast, Holland reaches a half-century off of just 21 balls in the 9th over but is spectacularly caught off of the next delivery he faces by Will Ross; the latter completing a stunning leaping, one handed effort. Another current Hampshire squad member, Ryan Stevenson, takes up the charge and is joined at the crease by Chris Tremlett. Standing in excess of two metres in height, Tremlett’s physical appearance is nothing new to seasoned cricket supporters but his muscle dominated build affords the former fast bowler the appearance of a Rugby player. He and Stevenson add a late flurry of runs as the All-Stars finish on 107-7 from their allocation.
Play resumes post a leisurely auction of sporting memorabilia in the marquee with the All-Stars opening the bowling with the foreboding pair of Chris Tremlett and Matthew Hoggard. Both operate off of short run-ups but are still able to demonstrate their latent class. Youth soon triumphs over age though as 48 runs are plundered from the opening 4 overs of the ex-international duo. With proceedings in the marquee ended those in attendance have left the white structure and line up along the village centre side of the ground. One estimates that almost a thousand people are ringed around the ground’s edge, a fabulous turnout for a very pleasant afternoon. Those ensconced in their front gardens aptly answer some of those initial mental perambulations.
Hartley Wintney’s batsman continue to prove remorseless as their comfortable chase reaches 76 without loss after five overs as the aforementioned marquee is cleared twice from David Griffiths’ leg spin. Middlesex and Ireland’s Tim Murtagh is similarly offered short shrift as the charity nature of the day becomes paramount, Hartley Wintney reaching three figures in the 7th over despite some gentle heckling from the public address announcer.
Despite opener Rajeev Nair being dismissed for 40 an early finish appears inevitable. The Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method dramatically intervenes though, courtesy of a quick collusion between the public address announcer and captain Udal to revise the required total to 160. The amendment matters little as Kiwi Henry Collier launches a huge 6 over the sightscreen off of Jimmy Adams just moments after the announcer highlights the Hampshire opener’s 14 first class wickets. Collier plunders runs aplenty and eventually retires on 67 after another enormous maximum. Captain Udal wisely keeps himself out of the attack until the final over before bringing himself on at the death with Hartley Wintney requiring just five runs for victory. The batsmen respectfully record four singles to level the scores until the last delivery when a dramatic denouement is reached as an attempted pull shot is deftly pouched by Jimmy Adams; the match sort of ending in a tie.
In truth, the minutiae of the result and how it is achieved is irrelevant. This isn’t the first such contest to take place at Hartley Wintney’s beautiful ground and it is unlikely to be the last. Charity fund raising is also not a new concept but the sense of home has been beautifully maintained by Udal as his chosen charities are both on the local side. Cricket has rapidly become a global sport with so much homogeneity, particularly at the highest levels, but the game still manages to maintain the links with home and one’s locale courtesy of such afternoons in such glorious locations. Long may the most parochial links continue. The only disappointment was that captain Udal was not bowling long enough for one to indulge in a guttural cry of “Shagggggggyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!”