Lymington cricketers to re-enact their very first match

.Anyone wandering across Pennington Common on Sunday afternoon may be forgiven for thinking they have stumbled upon the filming of a remake of Pride & Prejudice. In fact, the 22 gentlemen doing their utmost to look like Mr Darcy will be the redoubtable members of Lymington Cricket Club who will be re-enacting the first ever cricket match played in the town as part of the club’s ongoing bicentenary celebrations. On that noteworthy occasion back in 1807, XI Gentlemen of Lymington defeated XI Gentlemen of Southampton by 37 runs. Now, exactly 200 years on, the Lymington cricketers will be finding out just what it was like to play in that very first match.

Extensive research by club members has uncovered some interesting facts about cricket at the beginning of the 19th century - and dispelled a few myths too. For instance, it is a widely held belief that cricket bats were curved like hockey sticks, that there were only two stumps instead of the current three, and that fielders could dismiss a batsman by catching the ball in their top hat. All of these things may have been true half a century or more earlier, but by 1807 the game had begun to resemble the modern version in many ways.

The biggest difference was the style of bowling used 200 years ago. Overarm bowling was not introduced until much later, so the ball would have been delivered in underarm or 'round-arm' fashion. An over consisted of just four balls in 1807 (six ball overs were not introduced until 1900). Bats were similar in shape to today's, except that they were made from ash, rather than willow, and therefore painfully heavy to use. The batsmen - or 'strikers' as they were then known - didn’t have the luxury of protective pads or gloves which were some years away from being invented, although it was common for Georgian cricketers to stuff uncarded wool inside their stockings to protect their vulnerable shins. And if the batsman did manage to hit the ball any distance, he faced the prospect of a lot of exercise, since boundaries weren't introduced until the 1870s and so all runs literally had to be run.

The cricket pitch on Pennington Common in 1807 would have been a far cry from the club's finely manicured Sports Ground home we know today. In those days the two captains would select the flattest area of the field on which to play the game, with the visiting captain then choosing the exact spot where the wickets would be pitched. As today the stumps would be 22 yards apart, the precise distance probably being determined by the use of a Gunters chain - an agricultural device widely used at the time for calculating acreage.

The cricketers' choice of clothing 200 years ago, as spectators will see on Sunday, followed the high fashion of the day: low top hats, powdered wigs, loose fitting shirts with stocks (ties), tight breeches, knee length stockings held up with string, and sturdy shoes with buckles. Organiser Trevor Phillips admits that it was quite a task obtaining all the outfits for the players and umpires. "The hats and wigs came from a costume hire shop, but we've basically created the rest ourselves, using a touch of historical license. Mind you, I’m a bit concerned about the breeches," he admitted, "they’re rather on the tight side - I just hope the stitching holds or the spectators could see a lot more than they bargained for!"

Sunday's match will see two teams of club members, under the names of XI Gentlemen of Lymington and XI Gentlemen of the New Forest, compete in a 24 overs a side contest. Lymington Town Mayor Pauline Elsworth will be in attendance to bowl the first ball of the day, and spectators are welcome to attend the match which commences on the Common at 2.30pm.

 

TP

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