So this is it. Nearly five months of charging around, changing plans, checking weather forecasts and match situations and attempting to squeeze in as much frantic spectating as possible whilst simultaneously trying to hold down a secular job and maintain a balanced home life arrive via a rather circuitous, yet enjoyable, route to the final day of spectating for the year.
Today’s venue is perhaps not one’s most preferred but, other than a trip to the capital, or a hike to the Midlands, one’s opportunities are rather limited. Thus, the confines of the Ageas Bowl will provide the forum for a final few hours watching the beloved game prior to the near half year hiatus. From a personal perspective this final afternoon represents something of a record. The fourth day of September had previously been the latest in the calendar year that this author had enjoyed an afternoon of cricket spectating. Thus, a date twenty days later does prove rather indulgent.
The contest itself is theoretically important to both counties but less so for the hosts. Safe from relegation courtesy of a draw the previous week in the north-east, Hampshire can potentially finish anywhere between third and sixth in the table. For the visitors Lancashire the situation is rather more perilous and definite. Only a victory will provide enough points to potentially save them from dropping out of the domestic game’s highest echelon and even that would be dependent on results at other venues.
Under almost cloudless skies the hosts are invited to bat first by Lancashire skipper Liam Livingstone post an uncontested toss. As has been the case since the resumption of the County Championship, batting proves trialsome and difficult as the visitors collect three early wickets including that of Jimmy Adams, playing his last match for Hampshire before retirement, for a duck. Captain James Vince defies the visiting bowlers but his dismissal on the cusp of lunch leaves Hampshire precariously placed at 87-4.
In truth, today’s ambient temperature could easily be experienced in June or July, such is the capricious nature of the English weather, but there are subtle differences that indicate the autumnal nature of the afternoon. The sun, during its frequent appearances, arcs on a shallower parabola than those high summer days when one has to crane their neck to properly catch sight of the orb at its apogee. The light doesn’t quite possess the same brilliance or generate the same contrast of colour; there is a milky, wan veneer as if the sun cannot quite reach its full lux. Were one not aware of the date then one could easily conclude that the game is taking place in April but, already cognisant of such chronological knowledge, one doesn’t possess the same sense of anticipation and keenness that had been apparent during the late spring weeks. The wind, always a feature at the exposed Ageas Bowl, proves a little cutting rather than refreshing, as if issuing a warning that the elements are a-changing.
Three more wickets fall inside the first forty minutes post the resumption in play but resistance is offered by Sam Northeast and the evergreen Gareth Berg; the former appearing ever more comfortable as his innings progresses. Appearances are very much deceptive though as the erstwhile Kent batsman is trapped leg before by Tom Bailey eight runs short of a half century.
Berg battles on but soon becomes Bailey’s third victim as the hosts are bowled out for 187, albeit not before an entertaining cameo from Fidel Edwards. With a technique full of squats and idiosyncrasy, the paceman plays the most sumptuous cover drive and pilfers a further ten runs through hoiks and agricultural clouts, much to the delight of a patient crowd, before holing out to Liam Livingstone at mid off.
Lancashire begin their response in circumspect fashion as Fidel Edwards and Kyle Abbott collect an early wicket apiece. Keaton Jennings and Liam Livingstone bat with growing assurance, particularly once Edwards and Abbott are replaced, in recording the first half century partnership of the day. Hampshire skipper James Vince turns to his strike bowlers but to no avail as the Red Rose county pass three figures. Both batsmen appear untroubled by either the pitch or the bowling, Liam Livingstone in particular playing a range of confident, elegant shots.
As the day drifts toward the close the visitors appear set to enjoy a healthy overnight advantage. The contest offers a sting in the tail though. Keaton Jennings is forced to regress back inside his crease after Lewis McManus stands up to the stumps. Perhaps the small change has an effect on his judgement or concentration as he is soon castled by Ian Holland. The bowler claims the wicket of nightwatchman Steven Parry soon after and the fabric of the contest has altered significantly. The visitors require a further 60 odd runs to claim any first innings advantage after previously coasting toward their hosts’ total.
For a brief period during the afternoon session the sun shone magnificently, the warmth of the day almost required one to eschew one’s jumper and the general ambience could have been that of mid-summer. Such an illusory moment soon disappeared though. The sun continued to shine but the warmth quickly receded and the brilliant light faded as the shadows of the tented pavilion and the two adjacent stands began their unstoppable march across the outfield. September is often a month of beautiful weather but the realities of autumn are never far away. Hence one cannot help but feel a sense of melancholy. Cricket is different from most major sports in that its close season is all but the same length as that of the season itself. Roll on the end of November when next year’s fixtures will be released.