11:00am Saturday 26th July 2014
By Simon Walter
YOU always know there is a big match coming up at The Ageas Bowl when there are more people preparing for it than there are spectators for a typical day’s play in the LV County Championship.
The ground’s biggest fixture since Hampshire moved there in 2001 is now only 24 hours away.
Suffice to say, The Ageas Bowl has been a hive of activity over the last two days.
No-one has been busier than head groundsman Nigel Gray and his staff.
Gray spent long periods of yesterday afternoon on his square in conversation with Chris Wood, the ECB Pitches Consultant, while preparations continued apace.
It brought back memories of India’s last visit for a first-class match, against Hampshire 12 years ago, when Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and John Crawley all refused to bat on a terror track during a difficult period for the club when the ground’s new square was still settling down.
Hampshire’s ground has come a long way since then, but the sight of builders plugging away on the hotel was a reminder that this is still very much a work in progress.
The Hilton Hotel is due to be completed next year but the media centre was opened for the first time on Friday to accommodate reporters previewing the match.
Its readiness was the one proviso laid down by the ECB when The Ageas Bowl was allocated this Test match.
While the rest of the hotel is still a building site, the media centre is a magnificent vantage point.
Having had to cover the Sri Lanka Test and subsequent one-day internationals from the Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie stand, effectively from the same angle as third man, the likes of Mike Atherton, Derek Pringle, Mike Selvey and George Dobell can now report on the action from behind the bowler’s arm while play takes place against the backdrop of the Ageas Bowl’s iconic pavilion.
National correspondents in attendance yesterday agreed that the view is as good as any (an invitation from Hampshire Cricket to dine at Kuti’s on Monday evening was a further boon), bar the stunning vistas at Trent Bridge and Lord's.
Initially, the hotel was scheduled to be complete in time for this Test. Nevertheless, the next five days should be another great success, despite the awkward schedule making for disappointing ticket sales.
Unlike the inaugural Test against Sri Lanka three years ago, it looks like being blessed with wonderful weather.
This is an even bigger game but Gray is confident the pitch will be as good as it was in 2011.
Hopefully England will respond with a series-levelling win. It will certainly be an examination of their character following the debacle at Lord’s, when India won their first overseas Test for three years.
They were given net practice by several local ‘net’ bowlers yesterday, as England coach Peter Moores looked on. What an experience for the likes of Lymington duo Ed Freeman and Simon Beetham, Bashley’s Jake Lilley and Nicky Elliott and Ryan Beck of New Milton.
Fareham & Crofton’s Campbell Saul was another. Having enjoyed dismissing Mohammed Shami thrice on Thursday (all caught and bowled) - “he might bat at ten but he’s got a first-class fifty!” - the 18 year-old off-spinner bowled against England openers Alastair Cook and Sam Robson yesterday.
“I bowled Cook back into form!” he said. More clubs will be involved during the first three days of the Test, with junior players from clubs such as Hedge End, Trojans, Michelmersh & Timsbury and Old Netley playing Kwik cricket during the lunch intervals.
Michael Carberry was at The Ageas Bowl in his Hampshire tracksuit on Thursday as he and his teammates prepared for their opening Royal London One-Day Cup fixture, at Derby today.
It was a reminder of how unfortunate Carberry is not to still be opening for England, but at least Hampshire will be represented.
Bashley's Michael Porter, a former Hamshire Academy player, will be England’s 12th man over the next five days.
It will be a week to remember for him, especially if he gets the chance to emulate Adam Rouse, who took a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakarra three years ago.
There are a couple of other familiar faces to fans of Hampshire Cricket involved in this Test.
Director of cricket Giles White took the chance to catch up with India coach Duncan Fletcher, who worked for the county on a consultancy basis four years ago, when the tourists arived on Thursday.
And England’s former Hampshire physio Craig DeWeymarn, the ex -Bournemouth CC captain, will be back in the home dressing room.
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