The announcement of a Royal wedding provokes a wide range of reactions. Many respond with unfettered delight, almost bordering on hysteria at the prospect of another day to match those of previous Royal family members begins to loom on the televisual horizon. In contrast, arguably just as many utter scorn and derision at such a prospect followed by mumblings and grumblings about privileged lives and tax payers money footing the bill.
For some there is the latter delight at such an announcement even though such individuals have no intention of actually watching the event or paying attention to hype during the period in between the announcement and the wedding day itself. Indeed, their delight derives from one of two sources: an extra Bank Holiday or day release. The former soon became irrelevant as it was announced that there would not be an extra day off. However, the announcement of a Saturday wedding date dictated that a day release was most certainly a possibility. For many an ‘other half’ would be interested in watching the wedding with all its accompaniments, providing said day release for those not interested in the wedding to slope off to an afternoon at the cricket. The ECB had not had the foresight to predict such an event so there was no first-class cricket scheduled for the day in question. Second XI cricket also failed to provide an alternative so it was a case of perusing the fixture list of the local ECB Premier League for a suitable venue. Somewhat pertinently, and almost as if the individuals behind this particular fixture list had been privy to the plans of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Hampshire’s Academy would play host to Basingstoke and North Hants on the Ageas Bowl’s Nursery Ground, a short car journey from one’s lounge.
The top flight of the Southern League’s parent county has played host to Hampshire’s Academy team since they gained promotion from the old second division at the conclusion of the 2002 summer. Fifteen seasons of cricket in the highest echelon have witnessed players such as Jimmy Adams, Danny Briggs, Liam Dawson, James Vince and Chris Wood learning their craft with the academy. Included in the current squad is batsman Tom Scriven, part of England’s Under-19 team that reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup the previous winter.
In contrast, Basingstoke and North Hants would be playing their first season in the Premier Division since the re-organisation of the league at the turn of the millennium. The north Hampshire club had finished second in the first division the previous summer but poor playing facilities at the champion club, Calmore Sports, dictated that Basingstoke would take their place. Curiously, the team would be captained by Mitchell Stokes, a previous alumnus of the Hampshire Academy. The contest would also prove intriguing as it would be played with a white ball and in coloured clothing after the Southern Premier League became the first competition at such a level to introduce the changes at the beginning of the previous season. Indeed, the hosts would play in a blue kit that appeared to have been borrowed from the leisure wear section of the club shop whilst Basingstoke’s offering, in contrast, is a pleasant mix of navy with luminous green arms and a white swoosh across the midriff that provokes the odd hint of an old Scotland kit.
Hampshire’s Academy team may have produced its fair share of first-class players but perhaps the most intriguing aspect of matches hosted by the team are the salubrious surrounds. Listed on the Southern League website as playing at the Ageas Bowl reality dictates slightly less gargantuan climes in the form of the Nursery Ground next door. Nevertheless, the venue still proves impressive and certainly a little more enjoyable than its concrete neighbour. Not quite in keeping or as bedded in as other league venues, the Nursery Ground nonetheless offers a pleasant spectating experience courtesy of a sweeping amphitheatre style bank around approximately a quarter of the playing area into which the pavilion hunkers. One can also wander into the Ageas Bowl itself and enjoy an elevated view from the eastern concourse.
The opening two weeks of the season offered contrasting experiences for the two teams involved in today’s contest. Hampshire’s Academy team completed a convincing seven wicket victory over St Cross Symondians on the opening day of the campaign before reaching 170-7 at home to Lymington a week later before rain curtailed any further play. Opener Felix Organ recorded half-centuries in both contests. Basingstoke and North Hants only managed to play 34 overs of cricket over the first two Saturday’s of their season, reaching a cautious total of 132-6 against St Cross Symondians prior to the aforementioned rain whilst their first match at Premier League level was abandoned before play even began due to the pitch at New Milton suffering the effects of March and April’s heavy rain. Thus, little could be gleaned as to how either side would fare in the wedding day contest.
Basingstoke bat first on a green tinged pitch and bat circumspectly, reaching 58-2 after ten overs. The visitors’ skipper Mitchell Stokes plays a trio of accomplished cover drives in response but the Academy’s change bowlers prove more threatening than their opening equivalents and Basingstoke are soon reeling at 98-5, reaching three figures in the 21st over. Somewhat bizarrely, a golf ball suddenly appears at deep-square leg from the adjacent Boundary Lakes course. The penultimate hole runs parallel to the far side of the ground and an errant shot threatens the Nursery Ground outfield. Indeed, from the pavilion end of the ground the occasional ping of driver on ball is clearly audible. (A second and third small white orb appear near the end of the Basingstoke innings, both almost residing in the same spot as the first, one of which replenished that lost on the last hole of this author’s round the previous evening) The presence of the occasional golf ball does provoke a few ponderings regarding the safety of those in the field as a cry of ‘fore’ was not audible in either case of a ball’s appearance.
Such issues aside, the visitors’ day fails to improve, despite a mini recovery from Laurence Benge and Ashley Neal, subsiding to 147-8. Benge bats well with the tail but is the last man dismissed, for 26, as the Academy’s strong bowling attack dismisses the visitors for just 168 with eight overs to spare. Rather pertinently, nine of Basingstoke’s eleven batsmen reach double figures but only Benge passes twenty.
Somewhat ominously for the visitors their hosts opening partnership includes Felix Organ, whose run scoring purple patch continued unabated in the week prior to Basingstoke’s visit to the Ageas Bowl, a controlled innings of 163 in a Second XI Championship contest against Kent helping the host county to an impressive total of 555-7 declared. Nevertheless, the opening ten overs prove testing for Organ and Tom South. The visitors’ new ball pairing restrict their youthful counterparts to just 27 runs via the nagging accuracy of Martyn Jones and the testing pace of erstwhile Hampshire practitioner David Griffiths. Runs flow a little more freely as Mitchell Stokes introduces his change bowlers and the hosts reach 94-2 at the midpoint of their allocation and drinks. Indeed, the visitors struggle to trouble the Academy batsmen, allowing Tom South and Tom Scriven to comfortably rotate the strike and collect the occasional boundary to boot. South reaches his half-century in the 29th over but is dismissed by Ben Thane soon after. Nevertheless, Scriven plays with authority, reaching his own half-century as the Academy canter to their target with almost ten overs to spare.
Cricket and the Royal Wedding have more in common then one would initially envisage. The Queen bestowed the title Duke and Duchess of Sussex upon the new couple, prompting a litany of comments from cricket folk that they hoped to see Harry and Meghan at the County Ground in Hove somewhen during the summer. A spot in the deck chairs at the Cromwell Road End would surely be appropriate.
Cricket and watching the Royal Wedding on television are also very much Marmite subjects. One either loves them or is particularly ambivalent. Many will have not been interested in watching the Royal Wedding, many would not have been interested in watching a game of cricket on a gloriously sunny afternoon. For some though the advent of one proved a perfect corollary to the other. Harry and Meghan watching Sussex would neatly close the circle.