From the season’s genesis in the heart of springtime to its denouement amid the falling leaves of autumn there are approximately 26 Saturdays included in the first-class county season. Traditionally the first day of a weekend, one theory dictates that the day would prove ideal for a spot of cricket spectating. Reality dictates otherwise though as one’s home county, Hampshire, are scheduled to play on a Saturday only half a dozen times during the season. Such an advent is not unique in county cricket but hardly surprising; Saturday is the allotted day for league cricket, thus potentially affecting attendances at any games scheduled for the first day of the weekend due to many supporters likely playing in a match themselves.
Thus, the solution to one’s Saturday afternoon spectating quandary is to bimble along to a one of the matches that constitutes the aforementioned league cricket in order to fill a temporary void. The beauty of watching a spot of league cricket is that the nearest match is rarely too far away. The club closest to home would be Hampshire’s Academy team but their match was taking place at Alton rather than the Ageas Bowl’s Nursery Ground so a short drive along the A27 to the satellite village of Sarisbury, nestled to the east of Southampton en route to Fareham, is undertaken. The village’s local club, Sarisbury Athletic, host Liphook and Ripsley in a Southern Premier League Division One contest at their charming ground known as the Hollow, a venue just a short drive from the main road but far enough from the thoroughfare to not be disturbed by any noise.
The hosts bat first but toil on a difficult pitch combined with a lush outfield, reaching 80-4 after 20 overs and 128-4 at the second drinks interval. From a position of potential, the home team crumble though; hamstrung by the accurate spin of Dave Elliott and Rob Nicklin, the former claiming four wickets as Sarisbury subside to 143 all out off of the last delivery of the 38th over.
Such ignorance sits well amid the pleasant, engaging surroundings of Sarisbury Athletic’s headquarters. Sat in the shade of an old oak tree, dodging the acorns as they descend to terra firma acquiesced by a pleasant afternoon breeze, one can appreciate the sweep of trees that flank the eastern side of the ground, providing a most sylvan ambience, the humble yet homely pavilion with its steps lined by foliage and the gentle drop from road level to the playing area itself. League cricket is played on a great variety of grounds and pitches; few could surely trump Sarisbury’s residence for pleasantness and understated charm.
Said surroundings are likely of no consequence to the hosts as they prepare to take to the field post the interval between innings, their modest batting efforts unlikely to cause the Liphook batting line-up few troubles during their fifty over allocation. The nature of the pitch and the pursuit of a small total soon take affect though and Liphook are reduced to 28-3 from the opening fifteen overs; the bowling combination of Jordan Wright and Shayne Freemantle stifling the run scoring, Wright claiming the wickets of the top three Liphook batsmen in a clinical display. Freemantle collects a wicket himself and there is little respite from the Sarisbury change bowlers as Liphook subside to 44-6 at the halfway point of the overs allocation. Their plight is further deepened by only possessing ten players, easing Sarisbury’s requirement a little further. There is a sense of resignation about the Liphook innings but with both teams comfortably residing in mid-table the season itself is arguably petering out toward a low-key denouement. Sarisbury skipper Ricky Rawlins collects a trio of late order wickets and the visitors innings is completed off of the penultimate delivery of the 29th over, a princely 96 runs short of its supposedly modest target.
Liphook will undoubtedly be disappointed with their innings and the match result but as a casual trip down the road for a spot of Saturday afternoon spectating the experience has proved most agreeable. Sarisbury’s delightful home ground most certainly enhanced said experience; the very local nature of the venue to one’s personal Blighty perhaps adding an extra sense of satisfaction.