Wet Starts, Early Starts



Apart from a very strong wind, especially close to the seashore it’s been a pleasant enough day in Portsmouth today with none of the showers associated with this April month - at least since the sun appeared first thing. 


Since today, however,  is Friday 5 April 2024 I can see that things have been rather less pleasant around the country. The bad news began in the middle of the country at Derby, the first of four grounds to call off play for the day and since two of the others have been at Durham and Manchester we might wonder whether the ECB missed a trick in arranging northern fixtures this early in the season. It’s an obvious conclusion to be drawn from the south coast, except that the fourth abandonment was at Canterbury and there was a late start at Hove, while they managed some play in Leeds and quite a bit in Birmingham, Nottingham and Lord’s.


Canterbury suffered also in 2023 with just 26 overs on day one and 12 months ago it was the southern corridor that suffered with the only day rained-off at Taunton while in addition to Canterbury, Hove lost about a quarter of the day. The Ageas Bowl got into the 89th over.

Hampshire’s abandoned day today makes it their earliest lost day of first-class cricket as well as their first opening day loss in the 21st century – the last occasion and the previous earliest was on 21 April 1999 against Kent at Southampton. The planned start on 5 April in Durham equals Hampshire’s previous earliest first day against Essex on 5 April 2019 which beat by one day the home match v Worcestershire in 2014 – both at the Ageas Bowl. That 2019 match incidentally was Hampshire’s second first-class match of the season as they had played the Oxford Universities side from 31 March.

It was also against the traditional Oxford University (singular) side in 1966 that Hampshire played a first-class match in April for the first time, on Saturday 30th. It was played in the Parks and Richard Gilliat captained Oxford University, top-scored with 62 on that first day (he was best again with 38 in the second knock). For Hampshire, Bryan Timms scored his only first-class century, Keith Wheatley took 7-86 in the match, and Hampshire won by 8 wickets. Nine years later,Hampshire’s first Championship match in April started on 30 April 1975 v Essex at Bournemouth; Hampshire batted first, there was a change of innings and the two sides bowled 128.1 overs in the day – 30+% more than is required of them these days.

These statistics so far have been concerned with the County Championship which in my early years of watching always seemed to begin in the first week or two of May around the time of the FA Cup Final. For example in the ten years from 1955, the FA Cup Final was always in the first week of May and Hampshire’s first-class season started  on FA Cup Final day four times, in 1960 and 1961 began on the previous Wednesday and on the other four started within a week after the Wembley match. Some things in life seemed comfortably certain back then. 

Things began to change however once the limited-overs competitions started. Hampshire’s first Gillette Cup match was on 22 May 1963 but once the Minor Counties were included we played Wiltshire (away) on 2 May 1964, Norfolk (home) one day earlier in 1965 and in 1967, Lincolnshire again on 29 April – our first competitive match of any kind in April. The Norfolk side incidentally was captained by the England Ashes hero of 1953, Bill Edrich and their top-scorer with 60 (stumped Timms bowled Sainsbury) was opening batter Henry Blofeld (yes, that one).

On 27 April 1969 Hampshire made their debut in the new Sunday League with a 40-overs defeat at Canterbury despite which Hampshire came close to winning the competition in its first year. Two years later Sunday afternoons began at Bournemouth on 25 April and when the Benson & Hedges Cup was introduced the second season saw Hampshire playing Minor Counties South at Amersham (Bucks). It was an early start but after Richards went for 18 (36-1) Greenidge (173) and Turner  (123) took the 55-over total to 321-1 and an easy victory. Their partnership of 285* remains Hampshire’s second wicket partnership record in all List A cricket.

So the pattern was set for earlier starts in one competition or another. Before this in 1926, Hampshire started a game on the first day of May, against Surrey at the Oval and they began a game on May Day again in 1971. By contrast in 1911 they started just one Championship match in May (plus one against MCC).

In terms of the present and future only since 2005 have we started the Championship (regularly) with matches in the first half of April and it is only ten years since we first played a Championship match in the first week of April (6 April 2014) but now it seems to be fixed practice to accommodate the range of competitions, although county cricketers now play fewer days each season than their counterparts of around 60 years ago.


So what about the weather? The first time Hampshire lost day one after entering the county championship in 1895 was perhaps unsurprisingly at Old Trafford four years later but the next four occasions were two at Lord’s (1913 & 1932) and two at the Oval (1903 & 1926). The Oval match in 1903 was due to start on 7 May but no toss was made and no ball bowled despite which teams were announced. After that the next abandoned opening day came at Peterborough against Northamptonshire

on 5 May 1951, after which it was against Glamorgan at Southampton in 1955 – our first home abandonment.


In 1958 Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie’s first match as our official captain was in Bradford and because the first two days saw no play the match became a straight single innings, winner takes all, eight points the reward. The captain top-scored with 36 but Hampshire struggled to 105-7 in 51 overs (Trueman 4-25) when Ingleby-Mackenzie made a very generous declaration. Yorkshire’s openers went for 36 and Brian Close was run out but Trueman was promoted and smashed 58* with Derek Shackleton recording the incredible figures of 7-0-64-0. Yorkshire reached their target in 13.1 overs and Ingleby-Mackenzie later wrote that it was probably the last time he was applauded by a Yorkshire crowd!

In 1968 Hampshire tried to start the season at Hove on the first day of May but play did not start and the same happened at Edgbaston on 4 May 1977 while in the following year all three days at Lord’s were abandoned. After losing 10 of their 11 first days away from home the last two were both at Northlands Road on 23 April 1998 and 21 April 1999. Then there were generally good starts until this year at Durham, although in 2014 we managed just 8.5 overs against Worcestershire at the Ageas Bowl and the next day was wiped out

Of course the worst wet days in Hampshire’s history came not on day one but at the conclusion of the 1974 season when the abandonment at Bournemouth of the last day against Somerset and all three days against Yorkshire robbed Hampshire of a deserved title. Although there have been wet days at the new ground it has not suffered a complete abandonment so far, whereas five of Hampshire’s first-class home matches have failed to start: 1960 v Worcestershire at Southampton; 1963 v Warwickshire at Bournemouth;1974 v Yorkshire at Bournemouth; 1977 v Australians at Southampton; 1986 v Lancashire at Southampton.

The wettest championship game at the Bowl in 22 seasons so far was a match against Yorkshire in July 2012 which had a total of 106 overs, then comes a match against Warwickshire in the first season, August 2001. Other short games were in May 2021 v Leicestershire (123.5 overs), May 2007 v Lancashire (126), then July 2007 v Sussex (136.1) and there was also the ‘Lockdown’ Test v Pakistan in August 2020 (134.3 overs).

It is interesting then that despite the view that starting cricket in April is prone to interruption the shortest championship match in that month is some way down the list in 2014 with 139.1 overs against Surrey.

There have been nine other drawn matches there which have ended with between 150-200 overs and one or two other cases outside Championship matches at the new ground. In fact our shortest drawn home match in this century was the 78 overs bowled in the match against Essex in August 2020 but that was at Arundel, again in the ’Lockdown’ season. There have also been a couple of university games that did not go the distance: Cardiff University (83 overs) in April 2018 and 120.3 overs against Loughborough University in April 2006. 

So, April does suffer but in the 10 shortest matches the only ‘dry’ months are June and September – the latter of course when even if it rains the ground will be warm and probably dry. There is no match in this list under 200 overs in September and the shortest in June is 195.4 overs against Kent in 2008. As for years, 2012 is the wettest with three on the list and it was a soggy summer. Otherwise there are two games on this list in 2007, 2014, 2018 and the afore mentioned ‘odd’ games in 2020. There are no matches on the list in 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2022. Despite no play in the first-ever competitive game against Essex in the B&H in 2001 the ground has been fairly dry – especially in championship matches. Let’s hope that continues in 2024.

Dave Allen

April 2024