Hampshire 288 for 6 (Weatherley 66) v Nottinghamshire
When a man's desire defeats his reason he is wont to dream. That is where a quest starts and also the hard work needed to achieve a goal other men dub fantasy. Little more than a decade ago there was nothing but pasture where Newclose cricket ground now stands. Then Brian Gardener, the prosperous visionary who owned the land, decided the Isle of Wight should have a venue capable of not only staging Premier League club matches but even of tempting Hampshire to cross the Solent. And at eleven o'clock this morning, over four years after Gardener's death, Luke Fletcher bowled to Joe Weatherley.
Nobody knows exactly how much money Gardener spent to realise his vision; estimates have settled on something above £2m. All that spectators might have noticed as they gathered on the grassy banks surrounding the arena was that the pavilion was modelled on that at Sir Paul Getty's ground at Wormsley and that the seating in front of the pavilion reminded them of somewhere … ah yes, Lord's, that was the place. Some, seeing the alders and oaks on the River Medina side of the ground, made comparisons with Arundel but Newclose is less intimate than that particular Elysium. The outfield, though, is smooth as one could wish and the pitch is clearly fit for first-class cricket even if it did not encourage free scoring on this first day.
Hampshire's 288 for 6 at stumps was thus an accurate reflection of three sessions in which the ball had moved about a lot yet one in which batsmen could prosper if they played straight and late. The images one remembers are not those of Stuart Broad or Jake Ball racing in but those of Steven Mullaney bowling his brisk medium pacers and taking 2 for 42 in 24 overs from the Carisbrooke End while Hampshire's openers, Weatherley and Oli Soames went about their business as cautiously as bomb disposal men.
Batsmen who looked to force things generally perished: Ajinkya Rahane did so in mid-afternoon when he edged a drive off Broad and was caught at around fourth slip by Chris Nash for 10. By then Weatherley had also departed, unluckily judged caught behind off Ball for a pleasant 66 when the ball had done no more than brush his upper arm. But that contribution represented something of a relief for an opener who had passed thirty only twice in his previous 18 first-class innings. Rather more to the point, Weatherley's 112-run stand for the first wicket with Soames had given Hampshire a foundation upon which Aneurin Donald and Ian Holland can build further on the second morning. Mullaney's bowlers might yet regret the inaccuracy which characterised their efforts in the opening session
Whatever the analysts tell them cricketers will always be suspicious of a fresh pitch on a new ground. Both Weatherley and Soames have played second-team cricket at Newclose but only when Broad bowled an attacking length did he leak a few boundaries as first Weatherley and then Soames drove him through the covers. The pair put on 88 in that morning session and Weatherley looked to be in particularly sound form.
By middle of the day, though, Hampshire had lost two wickets and Nottinghamshire's bowlers had found a better length and line. Then just before tea, a few cricketers' thoughts turned to self-preservation as a modest swarm of bees approached the ground from the Medina side. Some players, among them Broad, lay on the ground and one remembered wartime photographs of fielders lying in similar positions to avoid the rather more deadly danger of German bombers. By contrast, the threat this afternoon was brief and its effect faintly comical.
Having rediscovered their accuracy in the second session Nottinghamshire's bowlers got the rewards they deserved in the hour after tea. Soames' four-hour vigil for 44 runs was ended in the over after the resumption when he pushed at Ball but only nicked a catch to Matt Carter at second slip. Half an hour later Sam Northeast's innings of 33 ended when he attempted to force the ball through midwicket but was leg before wicket to Mullaney, who almost immediately took a second wicket when Tom Alsop was athletically caught down the leg side by Tom Moores. Hampshire's poorest period of cricket was then completed when Liam Dawson drove loosely at Fletcher and was bowled for 25.
And so we got to the end of a day created by the ambition of a man who did not live to see an occasion he would have treasured. Gardener was assisted in the building and development of Newclose by a number of similarly able lieutenants, among them the former Sussex chief-executive Hugh Griffiths. As the cricket unfolded on this first day and the niggling problems which always affect such great undertakings cropped up, Griffiths and many others scurried about in the manner of outground officials across the land. And you can be sure that as they did so they were thinking of the man whose money and drive had made it all possible in the first place. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world," Jed Bartlet tells Will Bailey in The West Wing. But Bailey has the rejoinder to that one ready. "It's the only thing that ever has," he says.