A young Australian cricketer is having refreshments after a training session under the searing sun at the Rose Bowl’s restaurant. He introduces himself as Ben, but it’s his surname that catches attention. Craig McDermott is a big name in cricket as the top Australia fast bowler of the 80s and early 90s. Ben is his younger son and is here with three other under-19 teammates on a four-month exchange programme betweeen Cricket Australia and England and Wales Cricket Board.
“We train here and I play for a club in London,” says Ben, a ‘keeper-batsman.
Rose Bowl is the headquarters of the Hampshire county team. The U-19 boys are not its only Australian connection. Its most famous captain was Shane Warne. The stand named after him towers over the bowl shaped ground.
The Aussie flavour
Another Melbourne cricketer, Glenn Maxwell, adds to the Australian flavour. A superhit in the last IPL season, he is yet to win over the Southampton fans. “He’s been mainly playing the limited overs games, not the four-dayers. Last night, he got some 25 in the T20 game in Hampshire’s victory,” says Ian Tulk, a local cricketer-turned groundsman, who has been working at the Rose Bowl from the day it was built.
Maxwell will have to do a lot more to have his name mentioned in the same breath as Warne, Kevin Pietersen, Robin Smith and Wasim Akram, who played at the new venue built in 2001.
Stories of these greats abound. Without prodding, Tulk starts rattling them out: “Alan Mullally (former England left-arm pacer), at his peak was bowling huge no balls at the nets to Pietersen. KP challenged him to try from 15 yards if he liked. Next ball, wham! KP smashed him straight, the ball hit the boundary wall flat.”
Sultan of swing
Tulk also recalls how the shoe was on the other foot when Akram had a go at former England batsman Robin Smith. “Smith, a tremendously popular figure in these parts, was playing Akram in the nets. Akram had sharp swing going and Smith, unable to lay his bat on any, picked the ball and said: ‘Oh, I see this is a new ball, that’s why it’s swinging so big.’ Akram asked Smith to choose one from the set of older balls. He picked up and let go, swung the same amount, again beating Smith all ends up. That was the Sultan of Swing for you. And, mind you, he came here at the fag end of his career.”
Warne too was huge here, though he wasn’t very popular with the groundsmen. “He was very demanding with the groundsmen and umpires. He would go on and on, and after a point, the umpires would shut shop.”
The Warne stand is getting overshadowed by an imposing, stylish building coming up at the opposite end, a hotel in the middle of the stands. Except for the media box, it will be a four-star hotel.
The package for the front rooms will include a view of the game from their rooms while having lunch and wine. They can then come out and have a round of golf on the 18-hole course coming up next to the training ground.
Like everywhere else, sport is more business now.