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The intimacy of the May's Bounty brought about by its compactness, tree lined perimeter, informal pavilion, and constant background hum emanating from the omnipresent entertainment tents gave it a unique atmosphere and made it an attractive part of the Hampshire cricket calendar.
May's Bounty hosted county cricket for almost a century, but with several intermissions. Besides the initial match in 1906 only one other match was played before the First World War. That was in 1914 itself. In the inter-war years another five matches were played - one each in 1935, 1936 and 1938 and two in 1937. First-class cricket returned again for one match against Oxford University in 1951 but it was not until 1966 that Hampshire started to play there annually.
There were common threads running through the matches. Very few escaped the rain. Despite the smallness of the ground runs were nearly always hard to come by. Only one double century - by Glamorgan's Alan Jones - was scored.
Fast-medium bowlers always performed well. All but one of the ten best analyses were returned by bowlers of that ilk. Another Glamorgan player - Malcolm Nash - headed the list. He returned figures of 9 for 56 in a fine spell of swing bowling in 1975. He took all the wickets to fall to a bowler, the other batsman being run out.
Prior to the Second World War Hampshire had a disastrous record. They lost six of their seven matches, three of them by an innings. The County enjoyed better form from 1966 onwards, losing only five of their 35 matches - a formidable record. The only counties to defeat them during that period were Nottinghamshire (1969), Glamorgan (1975), Gloucestershire (1978), Lancashire (1991) and Yorkshire (1999)
Hampshire's two-day victory against Surrey in 1986 resulted in a special 40 overs match being played on the scheduled third day to satisfy the corporate entertainment guests. The county won that match, played for a £2,000 stake, also.
Some of the finest players in history made their mark on the ground. Andrew Sandham scored his hundredth century there in 1935. Percy Fender (7 for 91) and Alf Gover (7 for 72) also made an imprint on that match. The legendary Bodyline pair of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce destroyed Hampshire the following year. Voce proved to be the biggest handful, though with left-arm spin. His match haul was 10 for 58.
1969 marked the appearance of the greatest of allrounders. Garry Sobers mastered the difficult conditions and the impressive Bob Cottam to top score with 49 in the Nottinghamshire second innings and pave the way for a close win for his side. He also took an early wicket in both Hampshire innings. The best allround performance, however, was by Lancashire's Wasim Akram, who scored 122 and then took 5 for 48 in 1991.
Zaheer Abbas treated the crowd to a typical display of wristy strokeplay when he made a marvellous 132 for Gloucestershire in 1978. Angus Fraser returned match figures of 11 for 102 in 1988. Colin Cowdrey will also have good cause to remember Basingstoke, though for a different reason. He was felled by an Andy Roberts bouncer in 1974. Sachin Tendulkar also suffered misfortune in 1992 when he was bowled for a duck by P-J. Bakker. A unique event occurred in 1981 when, with the result no longer in the balance, Jeff Thomson amused the crowd and himself by bowling legspin for Middlesex.
Nearly all the great Hampshire players of this century played at May's Bounty. Robin Smith made the ground his own, despite missing several matches whilst playing for England at Lord's, with which the Championship fixture clashed for many years. He scored 977 runs (avge. 69.78) including no fewer than six of Hampshire's 17 centuries. He also recorded the county's highest score (179) at the ground, against Northamptonshire in 1996. Other batsmen who prospered were Mark Nicholas and Gordon Greenidge. Cardigan Connor took the most wickets.
Hampshire's best bowling performances were by Kevan James who enjoyed a purple match against Somerset in 1997 and the tragic Arthur Jaques who twice routed Derbyshire in 1914.
The Sunday at Basingstoke was one of the great social events of the Hampshire season. The ground became even more animated. It was usually a case of standing room only. The somewhat incommodious nature of it all became forgotten in the general atmosphere and hub of activity. It became a tradition for many Hampshire players to select the Basingstoke Sunday for their benefit match, such was its crowd appeal. One day cricket first came to Basingstoke in the form of a Gillette Cup match in 1967 and a Sunday match was scheduled every year from 1973. Hampshire's record was - played 29, won 16, lost 12, abandoned 1. These statistics blandly reflect some highly exciting matches, none more so than Hampshire's victory on faster scoring rate over Kent in 1982 when boundary fielders were confidentially asking Vic Isaacs whether they should remain or leave the field after the end of each over towards the end of the game! The most spectacular display of one-day cricket ever seen at Basingstoke, and indeed most grounds, also involved Kent. In Tim Tremlett's Benefit Match in 1993, their opening pair of Trevor Ward and Matthew Fleming indulged in the ultimate display of pinch-hitting as they passed 100 in only the 13th over. It was a truly breathtaking display.
No resume of cricket at Basingstoke would be complete without mentioning
John Arlott. He watched all his early cricket at May's Bounty and his evocative memories became etched in the consciousness of generations of Hampshire cricket followers.