Denis and the duckpond
In 1963 Hampshire celebrated its centenary year and took the County Championship title, so interest in the game was high. With all the main grounds in the south of the county, these games helped promote cricket more widely. Young players
were given a chance to shine as the team generally consisted of a mix of first and second team players, celebrity cricketers and members of the Lord Taverners.
Occasionally, the team visiting for the current First Class match would come along, too, so the local side never knew who they might be up against. The team member enjoying his benefit year led the side and reaped the rewards, while scouts from the club had a chance to seek out new talent. For the locals, it was a chance to play against their heroes.
To even the odds a little, a County XI
would play a local team of 15, so there were plenty of opportunities to take part. Each location had its quirks, such as one village green that was encircled by a road, creating a somewhat erratic boundary. The road was edged by cottages and the inhabitants either watched the match leaning on their gates or from an upstairs window. Visiting this village for the match one very hot, dry summer, we noted bicycles leaning against many of the gates. All was explained when the siren from the local fire station sounded and the crowd was depleted as the firemen cycled off to tackle yet another heath fire.
Television personalities were among those who took part and I recall a match where Leslie Crowther and John Slater, who played DS Stone in 1 Cars, took part. When the County side was batting, raffles and collections would be going on around the ground but those two spent much of their time signing endless autographs, all in good humour.
Another memorable match featured Denis Compton. The match was played on a village green with a large pond to one side of the pitch. Denis lofted one ball for six, right into the centre of the pond. Clearly, the local side was used to this happening, and a player was despatched into the pavilion for a box of used balls. Play resumed, only for the next ball to join the first in the pond. After that the box of balls stayed on the pavilion steps, just in case.
It was not only cars parked around the boundary that were in danger of having a windscreen smashed. My parents sat watching one match on a bench thoughtfully provided at intervals around the boundary. When a large gentleman at the other end of the bench rose to catch yet another ‘six’ lofted high by a County batsman, he deposited my parents on the ground.
Every game was different and the quirkiness of many of the locations often gave the locals an advantage over the County side but in many ways, it was the taking part and the spirit of the game that made for great entertainment.
Ann Williams, Kidlington, Oxfordshire