Rose Bowl passes the ultimate test
Posted in England v Sri Lanka 2011
Rooting through the loft a couple of days ago, I stumbled across a copy of Wisden Cricket Monthly dated June 2001.
Alan Mullally, Michael Bevan and Wasim Akram adorn the front cover, but of greater significance was the photo of the newly-built Rose Bowl spread over pages four and five.
Fate has probably got more important matters to contend with than my dusty magazine collection, but it was impossible not to note the neat symmetry of seeing a picture of the ground that, almost exactly 10 years on, hosted its first Test today.
In becoming only the 10th venue in England and Wales to do so, the Rose Bowl joins distinguished company.
There have been a few dissenting voices in recent years about the manner in which Tests are allocated, but, after a gap of more than a century without addition to the list of venues, even the most dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists would struggle to argue that the inclusion of the Riverside, Cardiff and the Rose Bowl in the last eight years is not overdue.
So what of Test cricket’s newest venue, and how did it fare on its debut?
The Rose Bowl lacks nothing in terms of looks, whether it be its distinctive tented pavilion designed by Sir Michael Hopkins (he of Mound Stand fame at Lord’s), or the wonderful views of the lush Meon Valley that greet those looking out from it.
It was only a shame that the vista was regularly interrupted by the menacing dark clouds that brought enough rain to lop 52 overs off the day’s play.
Aesthetics alone are not sufficient to justify promotion to cricket’s top table, but the ground ticked plenty of other boxes today.
That a crowd of 6,439 – significantly less than the 10,000 who bought tickets – can claim to have had enjoyable day owes much not only to England’s bowlers, but also to the welcome they were afforded by the Rose Bowl staff.
From the moment I arrived (amid a downpour so heavy I regretted leaving my wetsuit at the B&B), those manning the gates, offering directions or serving food were never short of a warm smile and cheery greeting.
The spectators themselves were in high spirits despite a late start and two rain delays that were comfortably long enough to accommodate a return ferry trip to the Isle of Wight – even if the umpires, in time-honoured fashion, got a gentle barracking during their protracted pitch inspections.
The pitch itself, widely predicted to be slow and low, proved uncharacteristically full of life after a day under the covers (the groundstaff only got a chance to cut it for the final time shortly before the start of play).
It certainly shifted the balance of power back towards the bowlers after two Tests largely dominated by the bat, although the fact it made for absorbing cricket will be of little comfort to wicketkeeper Matt Prior after late swing and bounce earned him a couple of bruises late in the day.
That as many as 38 overs were possible is testament to the excellent drainage of the outfield on a day that underlined the value of the good old kagool. It was with simple bad timing, and no little irony, that news of broken taps in the media centre toilets came during one particularly heavy downpour.
If James Anderson and Chris Tremlett can be pleased with how the day went, no-one will be happier than Rod Bransgrove, for whom this day represented the culmination of more than a decade’s hard work.
A large chunk (a reported £6million) of a personal fortune made in the pharmaceutical industry was spent resuscitating a £24m Rose Bowl project that was stalling when he became Hampshire chairman in 2000.
A further £35m was required to bring it up to Test standard, and there are ongoing plans for a hotel to complement the golf course and gym that adjoin the ground.
The ground may already have witnessed international cricket in the one-day and Twenty20 form, but Bransgrove understands the game sufficiently to know that Test cricket represents the pinnacle.
Today’s achievement means he can be satisfied with a job well done.