Hampshire: a county that gave birth to a great game
Cricket’s origin is dated back to a rural village in Hampshire according to material found from 1700s. Hambledon Club for the first time in the history organized cricket as a team sport. It’s part of Hampshire County.

Hampshire County Cricket Club was founded in 1863 and although they took part in the County Championship in early days, it lost its status soon after that due to poor performance. However, in 1895, Hampshire fought their way back into the fold and has taken part in every County Championship since then.

They have won the County Championship twice – 1961 and 1973. Since England and Wales Cricket Board introduced Division Two of First-Class cricket, Hampshire have been relegated a couple of times. Although they have fought their way back to the first division, they’ve not been able to sustain it for a long period. Hampshire currently compete in Division 1, a feather in their cap when you consider bigger clubs like Yorkshire and Middlesex are in Division 2.

Hampshire have shifted their home ground on several occasions. Antelope Ground in Southampton was their first home but in 1895 they moved to Northlands Road and the venue remained their home ground for over 100 years. In the year 2000, Hampshire moved to its current location, Rose Bowl. Although in a remote area of Hampshire and tough to reach on public transport, the venue is an architectural marvel and can host up to 20,000 fans with temporary seating for international games.

The ground went on to host England’s first ever T-20 International – against Australia in 2005. In 2011, Rose Bowl went on to become England’s tenth Test cricket venue.

Hampshire struggled to meet the financial demands and were facing bankruptcy after all the redevelopment work. It was a local businessman and cricket enthusiast called Rob Bransgrove who bailed them out.

Rose Bowl set up a hotel  to meet financial demands and the move proved to be a wise one. The hotel with 171 rooms, with some of them facing the field of play, is popular among fans. During Covid pandemic it came in handy with multiple Test matches being played here behind closed doors.

The availability of a hotel was the same reason why the ICC decided to play the inaugural World Test Championship final here in the year 2021.

For the 2019 World Cup, when teams picked their pre-tournament training facility, many opted for Rose Bowl. Hampshire’s state of the art training facility was one reason but other centers in England too have these facilities.

One other reason is that Southampton is away from the main centers so the distractions for the team are far less. On the other hand, London is just a 90-minute train ride and can be easily accessed.

Hampshire is renowned for many overseas stalwarts in their ranks. If there was a contest to choose Hampshire’s best overseas player, we would struggle.
The County once had Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards opening batting for them. Just how cool was to have those two names in the batting sheet.

With South Africa exiled from international cricket due to apartheid, Richards showcased his skills in County Cricket representing Hampshire for 11 seasons. His 204 First Class games for the County produced over 15,000 runs with 38 hundreds and an average of over 50.

Greenidge went on to play 108 Test matches, but by the time he made his Test debut in 1974, he was known too well in County Circuit as he had represented Hampshire for over 100 First Class games by then. His time with Hampshire lasted from 1970 to 1987 during which time he produced over 19,000 First Class runs not to mention his exploits in limited overs cricket.

If you walk in the streets of Southampton and ask who the best fast bowler was to represent Hampshire, the obvious answer would be Malcolm Marshall. Another great from Barbados like Greenidge, Marshall between 1979 and 1993, played for Hampshire for 11 seasons and took 826 wickets in First Class cricket.

When Hampshire were getting into trouble both on and off the field, it was to Australian great Shane Warne they looked up to pull them out of trouble. Warne was not just an overseas player, but he captained Hampshire successfully and groomed several young players including a bloke named Kevin Pietersen.
It was for his heroics with Hampshire that people called Warne the best captain Australia never had.

 Roy Marshall played only four Test matches for West Indies, but with Hampshire he was quite a sensation. He represented the County for 19 seasons from 1953 to 1972 and plundered over 30,000 runs in 504 First Class games. His aggregate is the second most in Hampshire’s history.

South African born Robin Smith represented Hampshire as a local and he is one of the finest players of fast bowling. At a time when West Indies quicks had the wood over the England batters, Smith is someone to hold his own with some back to the wall knocks. He played for Hampshire for 21 years from 1982 to 2003 and in 307 First Class games produced 18,984 runs.

The greatest Hampshire player is considered to be Phil Mead. He represented the County from 1905 to 1936 playing some 700 First Class games and scored a jaw-dropping 48,892 runs averaging 48.84. That included 153 First Class centuries.

The fact that most of Hampshire’s cricketing stars are overseas players is one criticism on the County’s development programs that’s in place. But on the other hand, it has to be mentioned that many players come through the ranks from Hampshire but move away to other Counties in search of greener pastures.