Sports

Spirit attack serve hosts home-cooked defeat

Home, famously, is where your heart is. A quirk of the modern cricketer, adorned in various shades of neon as they trot across the globe, is that they live out of a suitcase whilst pledging their heart and soul to a different franchise six weeks at a time.

Liam Dawson was part of Spirit's four-pronged Hampshire contingent © ECB/Getty Images

© ECB/Getty ImagesLiam Dawson was part of Spirit’s four-pronged Hampshire contingent © ECB/Getty Images

And tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be a Chattogram Challenger.

A lifelong adventure of international flings that rarely, if ever, collide with your one true love at home. But sweat away, sailor you don’t mind.

However, in today’s fixture between Southern Brave and London Spirit, four of the visiting Spirit side and 80% of the bowling attack in Liam DawsonBrad WhealMason Crane and Nathan Ellis ply their trade at Hampshire, with a fifth, Glenn Maxwell, also previously of this parish.

The result was a cricketing episode of Whose Home Is It Anyway? A comedy improv show where the away team’s five ‘home’ players outnumber the home team’s three (James Vince, James Fuller and Ross Whiteley) and they trade gags as Jake Lintott and Crane bowl googlies to their heart’s content in the background.

“We had the Blast here”, said Hampshire’s T20 final match-winner Ellis to Sky Sports ahead of the game, “so I was expecting some noise when my name came up on the screen. There was nothing.

“When I played for Hampshire I got a room with a balcony [in the adjoining Hilton]. Now I’m here as a visitor, I’m facing the other way with no balcony.”

Nathan Ellis. A stranger in his own kingdom.

Mason Crane celebrates taking the wicket of Alex Davies © ECB/Getty Images

© ECB/Getty ImagesMason Crane celebrates taking the wicket of Alex Davies © ECB/Getty Images

In the first innings, London Spirit reached an ultimately match-winning total of 147 thanks to Daniel Bell-Drummond who, in his first appearance of the competition, top scored with 46 off 33 balls.

But the plot thickened when Spirit’s ‘away’ bowling attack took on Brave’s home batting line-up. Between Dawson, Ellis, Wheal and Crane, London Spirit’s attack had taken 69 Blast wickets this year for Hampshire. And of Brave’s top seven, Vince, Whiteley and Fuller had combined for over 1000 runs.

“It’s pretty much the Hampshire winning attack with Chris Wood on the bench”, Bell-Drummond said after the game. “So they obviously know the ground really well and know Vince and Fuller extremely well. So that was very helpful for us.”

Ahead of the opening game of the season, Southern Brave had asked to reduce the boundaries to 70m all around only to be denied due to competition regulations. It is unclear whether the change was requested for reasons of business or pleasure, but crucially, it would have made it different.

The result of the move not being allowed, however, is that the dimensions of the ground remained the same as those in the Blast. A fact all the more important due to Hampshire’s longstanding success at the Ageas existing on a diet of pace-off bowling being combined with boundaries that are large enough to be considered intercontinental borders.

As the chase began, so too did the all Hampshire affair as Vince faced up to the offspin of Maxwell. However, in a moment very much not in the script, Vince was bowled. A big wicket has never been met with such silence, as a stunned stadium looked on in disbelief. Most of all Vince, who stood his ground and waited for the replay in disbelief that a ball would have the audacity to go anywhere near his stumps on his own ground of all places.

It wasn’t until Jordan Thompson came on as second change that Spirit abandoned their Hampshire connection. Dawson bowled his 20 deliveries in two sets of 10, conceding just 21 runs in the process, before Crane too bowled a set of 10. In total, all of Crane and Dawson’s deliveries were sent down from the Pavilion end as London Spirit’s Hampshire played Southern Brave at their own game.

“Hampshire play on used wickets here”, said Spirit captain Eoin Morgan to Sky at the close, “they’ve pushed the boundaries out with Mason, Dawson, [Danny] Briggs over the years and taken pace off the ball and used variations.

“Whether they’ve set targets or chased them down, they’ve been really busy, they’ve not gone gung-ho with the bat, looking for boundaries, they’ve built momentum with ones and twos and applied pressure in a different way.”

It was fitting then, that it was only to Ross Whiteley that Spirit’s plan almost came crumbling down. Whiteley, newly signed to Hampshire this year after playing for Brave last season, struck 52 off 33 balls to get Brave within striking distance before ultimately falling nine runs short.

“It’s always fun playing against your mates,” Whiteley said after the game, “and knowing how successful they’ve been it’s always going to be tricky.

“They’re great bowlers and they know how to bowl on that surface. They’ve shown it, winning a trophy this year, and they’ve done it again tonight.”

In the end, home advantage won out. Just not in the way we’re used to.

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