The ultimate Test in the 'cradle of cricket'
Southampton, June 21, 2021
Ageas Bowl, the venue of the current ICC World Test Championship final being played between India and New Zealand, is the home of the Hampshire County Cricket Club.
Although a recognised first-class side since 1864 and winners of the county championship twice, it has never produced a ranking international cricketer. It enjoys, though, the pride of place as the "cradle of cricket".
About 15 miles from where India and New Zealand are battling it out for the greatest honour in Test cricket is the village of Hambledon. In this idyllic setting is the Hambledon Cricket Club, which was formed in 1750 and which fathered the development of concepts and laws adopted and inherited by the modern game.
Fundamentals such as the width of the bat, introduction of a third stump (previously there were just two) and bowling to what is now commonly described as a good length were conjured by it.
Hambledon has a population of less than 1,000 people, but it is a place of pilgrimage for cricket connoisseurs. It's 'Bat and Ball' pub is an establishment of particular attraction to such purists, for it was here that meetings of the club occurred to construct the rules of the game.
For the greater part of the ongoing contest, the two teams have stared into scowling skies and watched monsoon-like showers. Their time would have been better spent imbibing history in the vicinity.
Also in Hampshire about the same distance from Ageas Bowl, but in a different direction, is Winchester, England's ancient capital and seat of King Alfred the Great.
It boasts a quite famous public school where the late Tiger Pataudi, former captain of India, was sent to study in 1956. His cricket master, the erstwhile England player Hubert Doggart, immediately read in him a prodigy. Appointed captain in his final year, Pataudi duly proceeded to surpassing Douglas Jardine's all-time record of runs with an aggregate of 1,068.
That privately gave the young man considerable satisfaction, for Jardine had dropped Pataudi's father Iftikhar Ali Khan from the England side after he had scored a hundred on his Test debut at the Sydney Cricket Ground. This was in the fabled 1932-33 Bodyline series. Pataudi senior had conscientiously dissented to Jardine's tactics.
Ageas Bowl, on the outskirts of Southampton, opened in 2001 when the county club moved its headquarters here from Southampton's inner city precincts. It was chosen as the venue for the WTC final by the ICC because of its Covid-secure infrastructure, with a hotel integrated with the stadium complex. The match was originally allocated to Lord's.
(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book 'Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge')