The Forgotten Counties: Home

Ah, Bournemouth. Dorset’s premier town that conjures images of sun, sand and holidays. On a summer’s day the masses head down the M3 from the capital in their droves and then sit in the resultant log jams at Ringwood and the southern vestiges of the aforementioned motorway as a penance for their hedonism upon returning north later in the day. Less work-a-day than its larger counterpart Southampton up the coast, the short drive from Hampshire’s largest city across the county border proves invigorating as it ventures across the New Forest toward its neighbour. It’s a journey this author has made on countless occasions but that final stretch down the A338 and onto the Wessex Way always provides a frisson of anticipation and excitement.

For many a summer the town also played host to the majority of its parent county’s minor counties cricket contests at the achingly beautiful Dean Park ground. For almost all minor counties their existence is a transient one but Dorset seemed to have managed to find a de facto home. Many extolled the venue and its beauty along with the litany of first-class matches that had taken place on the ground courtesy of the town’s historical residence inside the Hampshire border (prior to administrative changes in 1974) along with journeys across said border once it had been shifted east.

Arguably one of the greatest illusions that an inner-city county cricket ground can conjure is that of providing the impression that one is watching the day’s play whilst residing in the countryside. English cricket’s natural inclinations toward the bucolic, pastoral climes are best supplemented by surrounding vistas that are dominated by swaying trees, verdant sward and picturesque abodes. Despite forging an existence nestled into the northern suburbs of the seaside town of Bournemouth, Dean Park managed to provide that self same illusion courtesy of the surrounding back gardens of the adjacent properties and the well endowed, tree-lined pavements of Cavendish Road which acts as an orbital to the ground itself.

Surrounded by mature trees and hedges one was provided with the aforementioned illusion of watching in a quiet country village; only the turrets of the nearby Bournemouth University campus peeking over the town end sightscreen and the distant drone of traffic on the nearby Wessex Way providing a reminder that this is a suburban venue. But for the absence of the famed rhododendrons, one was reminded of the similarly beautiful Nevil Ground along the coast in Tunbridge Wells.

Flanking the western boundary was an elegant two storey pavilion that originated from the early part of the twentieth century and enjoyed a refurbishment almost ninety years later courtesy of the Cooper Dean family. Fronting the pavilion were a handful of weathered, but nevertheless charming, green wooden seats, inviting one to take a pew and enjoy the most glorious of vistas across the lush, almost perfect playing surface toward the arboreally framed horizon.

Adjacent to the pavilion was a rather antiquated wooden scorers shed but, similar to the green benches in front of the pavilion, it possessed a rustic charm and a nod to a bygone era or two. Two green turnstiles, a similar colour to the pavilion benches, resided in a gap between two trees near the scorers shed, a reminder of the ground’s first class past. Dean Park’s modern equivalent resides on the opposite side of the pavilion, a pleasant three storey block of flats with palatial balconies overlooking proceedings. Unsurprisingly, one or two of the denizens took advantage of the excellent panorama on offer.

The sinuous relationship between county and ground soon ceased though as the venue’s latest owners elected to use the pleasant old pavilion for non-cricketing activities and its most high profile residents were forced to look elsewhere. Fortunately, Bournemouth is still visited by the county but even then the visit, and the link, is somewhat tenuous. The alternative Bournemouth venue is the eponymous sports club that is home to the eponymous cricket club. However, the club’s moniker proves a little bit miss-leading as the facilities are actually located in Parley, a village almost half a dozen miles to the north of Bournemouth itself.

Nevertheless, the club’s location beyond the town limits provides something of a quirk courtesy of one of its near neighbours: the local airport. Not quite as cheek by jowl as the equivalents in Queenstown, New Zealand but not massively dissimilar. Thus, one heads along that stretch of A-road from the Ashley Heath roundabout under the auspices of investigating Dorset County Cricket Club’s new Bournemouth abode whilst harbouring the thought that any airplanes rising from the club’s neighbour might provide an impressive photograph opportunity.

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Spectating in a heatwave

 

Rather beautifully, the latest contest at the alternative Bournemouth venue has provided an absorbing final day to the Minor Counties match-up between Dorset and Shropshire. Post conceding a 118 run lead to the Midlands county, the hosts produced a brilliant performance with the ball in the second innings, skittling the visitors out for 211 after they had reached 61 without loss. Requiring 330 for victory, Dorset reach the close at 34-1 to set up an intriguing denouement. Convention dictates that Shropshire should complete victory; the Salopians had claimed maximum bowling points in their three previous matches whilst Dorset had recorded just a single batting equivalent. Sport oft produces results and performances very much against the grain though.

Opener Ben Wells and Luke Webb resume the chase, the latter likely to be crucial after an obdurate tenure at the crease, yielding 74 runs from 190 deliveries, during the first innings saved Dorset’s blushes. Both batsmen are required to overcome arguably one of the tougher tests for Minor Counties batsmen: starting afresh. League cricket is largely played without breaks, where batsmen can gain momentum and carry said momentum through an innings. The step up to multi-day cricket requires dealing with the intervals that can interrupt an innings, especially the overnight hiatus. Bowlers have an opportunity to ease into the day, batsmen potentially have only one life regardless of how many runs they scored the previous evening.

Spin is very much the order of the day as the visitors begin their pursuit of nine wickets; Warrick Fynn and Ross Aucott bowling in tandem during a probing first half hour. Wells and Webb begin to release the shackles but the latter falls in the 14th over of the day whilst Wells and Ed Ellis tumble to consecutive deliveries four overs later, handing the initiative to the Midlands county.

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The demographics of the chase

Fynn claims all three wickets, cantering to the wicket and gyrating his arms with a whirligig approach but bowling with great variation and patience, defeating the batsmen with drift along with a brilliantly flatter yorker that castled Wells. The combination of the slow left-armer and Aucott deliver an eyebrow raising twenty overs inside the first hour of play, and forty-three in the morning session, a refreshing boon prevalent in the Minor Counties game courtesy of spin’s great influence.

As the aeroplanes continue to buzz beyond the southern boundary of the ground Dorset’s trial by spin continues during the second hour of play. Sam Whitney replaces Aucott but it is Fynn who strikes again, skittling Josh McCoy with another skimming yorker. The dismissal ushers Chris Park to the crease. Second only to Mark Wolstenholme in terms of age, Park is very much the most experienced member of the Dorset squad, approaching eighty Championship appearances. Now captain and wicket-keeper, one could consider Park as Mr Dorset. The current contest at Chapel Gate represents something of a home from home for the Poole native as Park plays at the venue for Bournemouth Cricket Club in the Southern Premier League.

In tandem with Alex Eckland, Park steers the hosts beyond three figures as Dorset offer something of a riposte post the flurry of wickets. Four consecutive boundaries off of Sam Whitney ephemerally propels the score along but Shropshire’s spinners remain threatening with a number of vociferous appeals turned down by the umpires. Park and Eckland’s partnership passes fifty with the latter reaching his half-century, forcing Shropshire skipper Will Parton to introduce the first non-spinning over of the day after 37 overs of play. The change does the trick, albeit at the opposite end as Fynn induces an outside edge from Eckland’s bat to complete a morning session five wicket haul. Park’s vigil ends on the cusp of lunch as he leaves a straight delivery from Alex Wyatt and the end appears nigh for Dorset.

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The dramatis personae of the day watch on

Spots of rain from a passing bank of cloud pockmark the luncheon interval but the groundsman refrains from covering the pitch and play resumes at the scheduled time. Any interruptions would have been welcomed by the hosts. Mark Wolstenholme chips a catch to extra cover eleven deliveries after the restart whilst Alex Wyatt and Warrick Fynn account for the final two wickets, completing an eleven wicket haul in the match for the latter, as Dorset can only extend play by a further forty minutes after the intermission.

 

Had Dorset County Cricket Club never played any of their Minor Counties matches at Dean Park but utilised Chapel Gate instead one would likely be extolling another charming, palatial, semi-rural venue. Taken at face value, Chapel Gate proves pleasant and agreeable courtesy of the arboreal surrounds and the bijoux pavilion whilst the traffic from the nearby airport adds a noteworthy quirk to the locale. The spectre of Dean Park looms large over Dorset venues though, particularly any in and around the Bournemouth area, such was the beauty and history of the county’s previous home. Thus, one, almost unconsciously, draws comparisons; the enforced decampment to the city’s hinterlands a little like one moving from a large house in a most salubrious area to an equivalent in a slightly less chi chi counterpart. The second home offers plenty and proves most attractive but one finds avoiding those comparisons almost impossible.

 

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