Chairman remains cheery despite thorn in Rose Bowl's side
Unlike the early-morning rain, they came at a trickle. But paying customers arrived in sufficient numbers to spare the Rose Bowl any possible embarrassment and put a well-deserved smile on the face of Rod Bransgrove.
When Jimmy Anderson ran in to bowl at Tharanga Paranavitana, 75 minutes later than intended because of those unhelpful downpours, it was official: Hampshire's picturesque headquarters had become England's ninth Test venue in current use and 10th home in all on a list that includes Sheffield's Bramall Lane.
For Bransgrove, though, the moment of truth (and, no doubt, of huge relief) occurred shortly beforehand when the Hampshire chairman stepped forward to clang the five-minute bell on the pavilion balcony. The sun was breaking through, players on both sides were completing their pre-match preparations and nothing now could stop a dream from being realised.
As it happened, the action that followed – about an hour's worth – before rain returned and brought another delay was nothing to get very excited about: some wayward bowling from England, a slip catch via the edge of Lahiru Thirimanne's bat and 20-odd runs. But the Rose Bowl had arrived.
Chairman Bransgrove is generally given somewhere between 90 and 100 per cent credit for making it all happen, a state of affairs which he describes as being "a bit embarrassing because so many people have worked their socks off to get us here".
There is no doubt, though, that he has been both a driving and financial force behind the Rose Bowl's rise from new ground in 2001 to Test venue 10 years later. If Hampshire do not secure an Ashes match in 2013 or 2015 it will not be for want of effort on his behalf. "We have every intention of staying at the top table," promised the chairman.
"We have to be philosophical about the weather," he added. "That is one thing we cannot do anything about. But fortunately our ground dries very quickly so that should not be a problem." Unlike selling tickets for a series that has been a dampish squib since the opening day in Cardiff.
Hampshire have tried all they can to put bums on seats this week and sold around 10,000 of the 15,000 tickets available for yesterday. And tomorrow, given some kind weather, the ground could be close to full.
Even so, Bransgrove admitted to being a "little disappointed" that the first day of Test cricket in the county had not quite captured local imagination to the hoped for extent. "I think this series has been a hard sell, generally," he said.
When the sun shone yesterday, the Rose Bowl bloomed. It is a ground, rather than a stadium (in the fashion of Cardiff's Sophia Gardens) and hopefully will remain that way when future developments, including a hotel, are added before 2013.
There is, of course, a price to be paid for those open, uncluttered views of the Hampshire countryside: a price many spectators had to pay when the rain fell and there was nothing in the way of shelter for those housed in the roofless stands that contain two-thirds of the seating accommodation.
But to hell with the weather. "It was just too good an opportunity to miss," said 48-year-old Rob Matthews, first customer through the turnstiles with his £50 ticket. "I'm only 20 minutes' drive away, I've been here for other big matches and I wanted to be here for this one."
First-time Rose Bowl visitor Andrew Morgan, 45, came from further afield, travelling from London for a day he was determined would not be spoilt by rain. "I think the ground is fantastic and you can sense the excitement and anticipation around the place," he said.
Mr Morgan was not alone in thinking England should bowl first, given the chance. And when Andrew Strauss agreed, Hampshire members who were gathered in the pavilion voiced their approval. Three Sri Lankan wickets inside the first 17 overs did nothing to dampen English spirits, on and off the field. It could have been the start of something really big for Strauss's side but, like Bransgrove's team of willing workers, they were forced to spend too long wondering what the next few days will bring.
Still, for at least one local lad it was a day to savour. Chris Tremlett, born in Southampton and a Hampshire player until last year's move to Surrey, enjoyed himself back on familiar turf. "It was a great occasion for the Rose Bowl and for Rod Bransgrove and hopefully me getting a couple of wickets made the crowd a bit happier after all the rain. They gave me a good reception, which was great."
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