Half a dozen miles to the east of Andover in north Hampshire is Longparish, a collection of four hamlets located in the western hinterlands of the River Test. In every sense of the description, Longparish is an archetypal English village. Hence, part of the fabric is the eponymous cricket club with its idyllic setting; bijoux scorebox and thatched pavilion all told. Indeed, there is a cricketing history in the village and the club. Esteemed erstwhile cricket correspondent for the Times and former editor of Wisden, John Woodcock was born in the village and has lived there all of his life whilst the club itself has reached the final of the National Village Cup on two occasions, winning once.
The delayed first day of the 2020 season witnesses a contest against Compton and Chandler’s Ford; a club that incorporates the suburbia of the latter but is based in the village locale of the former to the south of Winchester. Both clubs play in Division One of the Hampshire League, one promotion away from the local Southern Premier League. Both clubs could be described as village, albeit not in the pejorative sense judging by their respective First XI’s considerable standard.
The afternoon’s contest (a curtain raiser in the Covid-created Winchester District Clubs Championship) will provide an opportunity to discover if village cricket proffers play a little more sumptuous than the recent incarnation of the expression suggests.
The hosts bat first on a gloriously warm and sunny afternoon but, almost inevitably, a waste high no-ball is delivered first up; prompting much chuckling and guffawing from fielders, batsmen and umpires. It is to be expected really. Nevertheless, the standard of fielding is notably sharp during the early exchanges; fielders chase the ball to the boundary with zeal and complete smart slides, flicking the ball back to their partner in a sinuous movement whilst Compton opening bowler Ash Lovell arrows in a bullet throw from near the mid-wicket boundary that wouldn’t be amiss on a county ground.
Longparish’s lower order fare better though and add useful late runs courtesy of a handful of inside edges and some attacking bravado, including three sixes in the last over, as the hosts conclude their forty overs on 204-8, Harry Martin finishing unbeaten just five runs shy of a half century. One of the highlights of the final few overs is the slip catch taken by Andy Gorty to claim the sixth Longparish wicket; instinctively diving low to his right to grab the ball after it had deflected from the bat of Jonny Maxwell from a Greg Littlehales leg spin delivery that leapt off of the wicket. An effort that certainly would not have looked out of place at a cricket contest of a higher level.
In response, Compton’s openers are watchful in the face of probing bowling from Longparish’s opening duo. The bald headed Chris Clarke charges in from the far end, all effort and arms pumping with an action possessing a hint of Peter Siddle. At the end of each over he takes shelter in the shade of the ground’s giant oak tree, supping occasionally from a considerable bottle of orange juice. One safely concludes that there is nothing ‘village’ about this particular passage of play.
The visitors are restricted to just 27 runs from their first ten overs and Clarke is rewarded for his efforts in his penultimate over with his first wicket. Nevertheless, Compton’s third wicket pairing of Andy Gorty and Liam Palmer attack the first change bowlers and reach the drinks break well placed at 78-2.
Momentum has very much shifted in favour of Compton and Gorty soon reaches his half century as runs are scored off of almost every delivery. Nevertheless, Gorty matches Ben Gardner from the Longparish innings and is dismissed soon after courtesy of a brilliant diving catch from the advancing Jack Levy, scampering in from long-off. Liam Palmer takes over the role as senior batsman though and soon reaches his half century but the visitors’ chase stalls; Palmer’s dismissal for 54 dictating that the visitors require thirty-eight runs from the final five overs. One tight over increases the required rate even further as Longparish claim a couple of late wickets to stymie Compton’s efforts; the hosts eventually prevailing at the end of a hugely enjoyable contest by half a dozen runs.
Recreational cricket’s return on the second weekend of July witnessed plenty of social media clips highlighting moments from matches that were deemed as ‘village.’ Such occurrences were almost inevitable, particularly during the first weekend of matches for almost ten months. Indeed, the contest between Longparish and Compton and Chandler’s Ford witnessed moments of hilarity, mistakes, dropped catches, inside edges, miss-fields and a sense of rustiness that would similarly be described as ‘village.’ Even matches at international levels still feature the occasional unbelievable moment; a dropped sitter, a batter leaving a straight delivery, a bowler proffering a rank long-hop. But the broad oeuvre of village cricket dictates that there is plenty that would certainly not match the modern, pejorative term. Village cricket: more often than not it is rather good.
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