Sport is an ephemeral business. Understandably, there is a perpetual sense of transience regarding the whole kit and caboodle and rarely does any aspect remain the same. No sooner has one season concluded than plans are formulated for the next. Players come and go with regularity, blazing a trail across the sporting landscape before fading back into normality. Even competitions are occasionally ripe for sweeping change or a necessary nip-tuck. Memories remain but as generations pass those memories drift away until they are just entries in the record books. Another name, another statistic for those who were born after the achievements of said star. Such a sense is particularly prevalent amongst individual sports where there is nothing tangible to serve as a touchstone to the past.
Fortunately, the landscape, figurative and literal, is a little kinder in the team sports world. Players, statistics and records still come and go with the same regularity as individual equivalents but there is a nucleus around which said players can spin and turn their individual skills and brilliance: the club. But for the vicissitudes of finance and playing numbers these gathering places of the sporting world are the constants amid the sense of recurrent change and shifting sands. Almost everything else alters and varies but the club remains in situ, a veritable heartbeat in its own community, be it geographical or demographical.
Almost half a century in the past eleven such hubs in and around south Hampshire came together to form the Southern Cricket League. As the years and decades have drifted by the numbers have grown and the names, of some, have changed but most of those eleven remain part of the structure. Neatly nestled amongst the hinterland of the city of Southampton and the satellite town of Eastleigh is Trojans, the largest sports club in southern Hampshire. Possessing over a thousand members, the club fields Rugby and Hockey teams as well as a thriving Squash section. The cricketers of Trojans were one of those Southern League founding members, claiming overall honours at the conclusion of the first season as well as winning the Evening Knock-Out Cup in 1977 and 1985. Stellar names such as Derek Crookes (South Africa), Mervyn Dillon (West Indies), Jim Parks (England) and Robin Smith (England) have all represented the club before progressing on to play international cricket.
Seven odd miles to the north-west of Trojans’ headquarters is the market town of Romsey. Just off the A27 approach road, next door to the Rapids swimming complex, is the home ground of Old Tauntonians and Romsey, the former of which were another founder member of the Southern League. Originally affiliated with the Tauntons College in Southampton the club, post a merger with Romsey Cricket Club, is now based in the eponymous town. Old Tauntonians themselves claimed three Southern League titles in the early 1970’s and another in 1989. Their list of previous alumni doesn’t quite match up to Trojans’ list but current Hampshire paceman Chris Wood and former Dutch quick Paul-Jan Bakker are amongst thirteen players to have played first-class cricket after representing the club.
Both teams have since drifted out of the Southern League’s highest echelon but, nevertheless, remain an integral part of the structure and the history of club cricket in southern Hampshire. The paths of these two blue chip clubs cross again for today’s contest: a first round match-up in the Southern League’s T20 Plate, a subsidiary competition for those clubs that lost in the first round of the T20 Cup.
Trojans have the privilege of hosting this particular tie on another scorching summer afternoon as the prolonged heatwave stretches into another week. To reach the club’s premises from the suburbs of Southampton one has to venture across the A27 (the same thoroughfare that continues past Old Tauntonians and Romsey’s home ground) and head along Stoneham Lane, a meandering thoroughfare sporting pleasant detached and semi-detached houses along the early section of its route that proffers a sense of heading into the countryside. Indeed, at one time such a sense would have been rewarded with the same reality but the M27 motorway cut a swathe through this section of the county during the late 70’s and early 80’s, the legacy of which is the almost constant background roar of rubber on macadam. In truth, there aren’t many places in Southampton where such noise is not interwoven into the ether. Such is club life in and around the urban conurbations.
Fresh from a morale boosting victory the previous day against Hook and Newnham Basics the visitors bat first and score rapidly against an under strength looking Trojans line-up, reaching 37 without loss after 4 overs. One ponders whether Old Tauntonians status as a first division team, one echelon higher than their hosts, will result in a lop sided contest. Indeed, the visitors progress to 64-0 from half a dozen overs and 85-1 from 8 overs as Elliott Mitchell-Lee, Steve Smith and Stuart Tognarelli force the Trojans bowlers to toil in the heat. The change bowlers are similarly offered short shrift as the visitors reach three figures in the tenth over.
Enamullah Uria bowls a lively, skiddy spell and dismisses both of the opening batsmen, Steve Smith the delivery after being deposited over the short leg-side boundary, although it proves to be the merest respite as Tom King’s sole over concedes 29 runs amid a flurry of wides, boundaries and the odd no-ball as the visitors reach 175-3 with five overs remaining. Almost inevitably the Old Tauntonians’ batsmen play with carefree abandon as their allocation reaches its denouement, collecting a further 69 runs to record an almost certain match winning total of 244-3, Tognarelli the highest scorer with 82, including 4 sixes, whilst Rhys Wathen bludgeons an unbeaten innings of 44 during the final overs.
Under such circumstances T20 cricket becomes somewhat mundane, the thrill of the chase all but evaporated as the pursuit of such a formidable total is almost futile. Nevertheless, Trojans’ opener Shafiq Uria strikes two enormous sixes over the short mid-wicket boundary during the opening over and one ponders whether the unlikely could unfold. The wicket-keeper perishes two deliveries later though and one senses the game may well be up. Indeed, the hosts are left with no other option but attack and are soon reeling at 23-5, the left arm spin of Matthew Bampton proving particularly potent. Little improves for the hosts as the batsmen come and go with alacrity; the enforced succession of attempted clouted shots resulting in easy pickings for the Old Tauntonians attack. Akin to many a T20 contest that has witnessed the team batting first amass a large total this particular match drifts into its period of waiting for the inevitable. Save for a few late order runs Trojans are unable to muster much resistance and are skittled out for just 55.
For Old Tauntonians the comprehensive 189 run victory likely proves a useful continuation of the momentum gained from the previous day’s victory. After a difficult opening half of the season such momentum will prove crucial as the team attempt to stave off relegation. For Trojans the defeat extends a difficult campaign to date. They had claimed three victories from their opening nine league fixtures but a 15 point penalty resulting from the inability to play a home fixture at their Stoneham Lane premises due to a saturated outfield has left the club also fighting relegation, albeit from a division lower. Whatever the outcome for both teams players will continue to come and go, matches and seasons will progress unabated and the sport in general will evolve in tune with the current zeitgeists. One aspect will remain constant and unchanging though: the club.