England will play three Tests in the space of 21 days when the international season gets under way in July. The series against West Indies will begin on July 8 at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton, Hampshire.
The choice of venue for the first live cricket match on UK soil this year is one of those accidental twists of fate, that once again turns the spotlight onto Hampshire: the so-called “cradle of cricket”
One of England’s most powerful and foremost cricket clubs, Hambledon Cricket Club, was founded in the 1750s and was instrumental in helping to develop many of the early rules of the game before the cricketing world’s focus switched to Lord’s at the end of the 18th century.
Former England international David Gower wrote in his foreword to Hambledon: The Biography of a Hampshire Villagethat it was this village club from the late 18th century that ‘raised cricket from a sport to an art’ – at a time when the Bat and Ball Inn, run by the legendary cricketer and landlord Richard Nyren, stood at the centre of the cricketing universe.
Matches were played on Broadhalfpenny Down which, at that time, also doubled as the village’s sheep common. The adjacent inn became the team’s clubhouse.
The link between pub and club was more than pure coincidence, however. During Hambledon’s heyday, cricket was linked closely to gambling – not to mention the consumption of large quantities of wine, port and sherry.
The club captured the headlines and the imagination of the public during the 18thcentury, to a point where it was able to influence, and even change, the laws of the game.
In 1771 for instance, one opposition cricketer, Shock White, played with a bat wider than the wicket. Within two days Hambledon had not only changed the rules for the maximum width of a bat, but had even produced a metal gauge to help enforce it.
There were other important and influential cricket clubs, but none were so well documented. And what iscertain is that for two or three decades, a small Hampshire village at the heart of the cricketing world, managed to establish itself as the cradle of the sport.
Broadhalfpenny Down is the location for a stone memorial to the famous Hambledon Club…
And, under normal conditions, visitors would be able to call into the Bat & Ball Inn for a pint of ale, and something to eat. (One of the most famous pubs in the world, when open, it’s also an unofficial museum to the history of the sport).
Hampshire’s historic links with cricket don’t end there, however. Thomas Lord, who was the founder of The MCC at St John’s Wood, is buried in the West Meon Church graveyard in Hampshire, where the village pub – the Thomas Lord – is named after him.
Tucked deep in the South Downs, Hambledon is well located for walks, and cycling through the country lanes. It has also been home, since 1952, of the multi-award-winning Hambledon Vineyard.
And it was here, in 2015, that the French were knocked for six when Hambledon Vineyard’s sparkling wine was declared better than any champagne in a blind tasting initiated by Noble Rotmagazine. Howzat!
[This feature was prepared for VisitHampshire: http://www.visit-hampshire.co.uk].