We had had to wait 315 days for cricket to be allowed to return.  Today’s result was a win for James Manning’s XI by 13 runs despite a magnificent century from Tom Perry taking Mark Lavelle’s XI close.

But today was about so much more than just the cricket on the park.  It was strange, it was always going to be with the restrictions, new rules and guidelines, breaks every six overs to cleanse the ball and sanitise hands, no changing rooms or showers, an empty clubhouse with a one-way system to the bar and to the Gents toilets, through the home changing room and out of the away.

There were no teas, no-one sat on the patio watching the game, staring into the glorious sun which beamed through a gorgeously warm Saturday on the edge of the New Forest as 22 players in white, perched unusually on the far side of the ground when not on the field of play, produced a highly entertaining, competitive game which finally broke the ten month hiatus.

And what was most pleasing was that the club came out in force.  It was a joy to see so many members, friends, children and parents enjoying the grand reopening in a terrific show of support, flocking to the bar for the refreshments to go with their home brought picnics and provisions.  We thank every single one of you for coming to Loperwood Park today – your support was much needed and much welcomed.

As for the game itself, new signing Will Brewster and old head, if you can call a 22-year-old old, Ben Johns put together a strong start of 119 without loss with some patience against the lively wicket early on which saw off the opening spells from Liam Newton and a brisk start from South Wilts import Ben Fisher, who showed some real turns of pace which gave the batsmen the hurry up.

But some things don’t change, whether it’s prior to the virus or post it, the spinners arrival made an impact.  Mark Lavelle started with a maiden, James Rose bowled nicely although a clonk to the head would end his afternoon early.  But there was another thing which doesn’t change too – a plethora of wides, 30 in total!

A wayward over from Dominic Ducellier saw the scorers run out of space in their particular over box as he slung down 12 deliveries but the final delivery of his second over saw Johns play on for 49 and then Mark Lavelle, with the next ball, sent Brewster back to the chairs (not the pavilion of course) for 41.  Matt Taylor’s afternoon ended with a run out as he came back for a second off a wide as Manning’s XI had lost 3-2 in seven balls.  There were decent knocks from Callum Holloway (10) and Sam Moss (13) before George Woodhall, playing his first game for the club in over a year since his return from Australia, cracked an impressive 21 in 18 balls which took their side past 200.  Taylor was permitted a second knock and made 14 not out to take his side to 213-9 with a wicket each for five of the bowlers.

The Lavelle XI reply was all centered around Tom Perry.  He shared a stand of 46 with Ryan Lomax, who struggled for his 8 in 38 balls, of which the ‘father to be’ scored 30.  He put on 27 with Ben Fisher in which he made 20.  And he added 77 with Max Bailey where he made 53 out of it.  It was a special innings and he went to his century with a full toss clubbed to the boundary.  He finally fell for 104 in 118 balls containing 15 sweetly timed fours and a huge six over the scoreboard but his dismissal with the score at 152-4 showed his dominance of the innings but they had just 26 balls remaining when he did.

Mark Lavelle’s 17 not out from 20 balls was no match for Callum Stanton’s brutal 11-ball unbeaten 32 which contained four fours and two huge sixes was not quite enough to bring them victory, falling 13 runs short when they actually needed 36 from the last over to win.

There were no handshakes to close the game, the odd fist pump, the occasional elbow bump and a drink or two chatting over the events of the day.

It might have been strange – but it was oh so bloody good to be back!

Match scorecard from Jimmy Manning XI v Mark Lavelle XI – 11 July 2020