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Fresh starts and fitting farewells

Posted in England v Sri Lanka 2011

As Rod Bransgrove, leaning back in his chair in the media centre, reflected on his beloved Rose Bowl’s debut as a Test venue, Kumar Sangakkara was pushing Stuart Broad into the leg side to bring up a first Test century on English soil.

For both, the final npower Test between England and Sri Lanka saw them realise their own dreams.

Both have had to wait some time: Bransgrove more than a decade since he became Hampshire chairman, and Sangakkara for the last Test of his third tour of England, a sequence stretching back to 2002.

There was a key difference between the two, however. While Sangakkara later admitted regret that his only meaningful contribution with the bat did not arrive until the series had been decided, Bransgrove expressed immense pride at having played his part in what will go down in the annals of Test cricket as a historic week.

Not so much for the result, although when the rain relented there was some of exceptional cricket played by Chris Tremlett, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Sangakkara, in particular.

More for the fact that, in becoming the 10th ground in England and Wales to host Test cricket, the Rose Bowl joined the "top table", in the words of Bransgrove.

Rose Bowl

Having made its debut as a Test ground, the Rose Bowl is now at the "top table", according to Rod Bransgrove, the Hampshire chairman

Bransgrove admits he is unlikely to make much of a profit - if any - from events over the past week (Saturday was the only day of the five sold out, for which the weather must take a large chunk of the blame), a scenario that will not please the businessman in him despite his insistence that he “won't lose any sleep over it”.

Yet he claims no balance sheet could give him the feeling of pride he got when he rung the ball to mark the start of play on the first morning.

“It hit me then,” he said. “I saw two Test match cricket teams take the field for the first time. It was an amazing feeling - almost overwhelming.

“That first ball was a special moment. I think we all had a collective intake of pride.”

For all that Bransgrove stresses the sense of unity at the Rose Bowl - Andy and Pete, the “logistics chaps”, are mentioned by name - he can take more credit than most for the immense investment, both financially and emotional, that has been made.

It is merely the start. Bransgrove wants to bring more Test cricket to the south coast, and to that end has already bid for an Ashes Test in 2013. “I've got the taste for it now,” he revealed.

The Rose Bowl certainly scored highly on its debut, whether it be the pacy pitch, practice facilities, picturesque surroundings or the tireless groundstaff. "Outstanding", "wonderful" and "fantastic" were just a few of the adjectives chosen by the players.

Kumar Sangakkara

Kumar Sangakkara's cathartic hundred brought the curtain down on the npower series - and quite possibly his Test career in England

Ten years old it may be, but the Rose Bowl remains a whippersnapper in relation to other Test grounds. It is merely starting out.

Sangakkara, on the other hand, is one of the elder statesmen in a Sri Lanka team that is leaning ever more on youth as Muttiah Muralitharan and others gradually leave the stage.

Those spectators who took their chance with the weather - and the offer of £10 tickets - yesterday were rewarded with one of the most classically elegant innings you are likely to see during this or any other summer.

Sangakkara has been a shadow of his former self with the bat for much of this tour, and there was little of beauty about the rash drive that spelt his downfall in the first innings at the Rose Bowl.

However, he played with such textbook correctness - high right elbow, leaning into cover-drives, completed with a checked finish to accommodate even the most sleepy photographer - that it left one saddened that we may not see him again.

Now 33, it is unlikely (though not impossible) he will be in tow when next Sri Lanka next tour these shores. If not, yesterday’s innings will serve as a perfect send-off.

Sangakkara’s career may be entering its final few chapters. For the Rose Bowl, the story is just beginning.

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