After a year which saw scheduling convention turned on its head, it was reassuring to see that the National Village knockout final still maintained its traditional slot at Lord’s last weekend.
Hampshire’s Calmore Sports CC eventually beat Alvanley of Cheshire to claim the crown in front of a crowd that included, among others, former England captain David Gower.
Gower described the National Village competition as the ‘beating heart of the English game’ on Twitter as the two side did battle in a match impacted by rain. And he hit the nail on the head. If ever there was a match that summed up the values and ambitions of club cricket, then the annual head-to-head at the Home of Cricket provides it.
Mark Lavelle is the captain of Calmore and a man who, along with six of his team-mates, came through the club’s youth system all the way to the first team to play in a match that will now be indelibly etched in the victor’s history.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk it properly yet, but what a day it was,” he says. “Was it as special as I thought it was going to be? Probably more, if I’m honest.
“I hadn’t been to Lord’s since 2005 when Hampshire played in the C&G trophy final and it had obviously changed a lot since then.
“I hadn’t ever been in the pavilion too. You try to imagine what it will be like in your head and then you walk in and it’s out of this world. The history, everything. I walked into the changing room and just thought how big it was. At Calmore you can barely swing a cat. We had so much room, although we still managed to make a complete mess.
“We had cleared everything up by the end, though, don’t worry.”
By the time the final sweaty pad had been placed lovingly back its kit-bag, Calmore had been crowned champions and were on their way to join Alvanley for the post-match dinner. So well did both teams get on, that there are already plans afoot for a re-match in either Cheshire or Hampshire next season, which also illustrates the kind of spirit the match at Lord’s was played in.
It’s a day that will live long in the memory of those involved, and the hope will be that one or both will one day return to the final.
“There a lot of northern winners of the competition so we’ve bucked the trend,” says Lavelle. “We said to the team before the game that days like Sunday are the sort that you dream of when you start playing in the back garden with your parents or your brother or sister. We might get lucky enough to go all the way again but, as a club cricketer, to know that you’ve played on probably the most famous ground in the world is a special feeling.
“We were told not to arrive until nine o’clock but we were all so excited that we were up early and got the Grace Gates at 8.30. They said ‘come on in’, so we took millions of photos from the balcony, sat in the members’ seats and then went into the home dressing room where we met the opposition. Everything about it was just fantastic. As soon as the field of play was open at 9.15, we were straight on it.”
Both clubs, like thousands of others, have had their issues since the onset of the pandemic, but Lavelle believes that, regardless of the result of Sunday’s game, Calmore are in as good a place as its possible to be.
And that many of the developments brought about by the crisis have actually proved to be positive ones, most notably an earlier start time and the ditching of teas.
“Before Covid we had four teams and, a lot of the time, had trouble getting that fourth team out every week,” he says. “Last season, we had an influx of players that could play every week. That may have had something to do with the fact they couldn’t fly off on holiday but from a club point of view, it has been great to see.
“Our junior section is thriving as well, with a lot of boys and girls coming through the youth system. Last year, for example, we had three under-11 sides – it wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t even have an under-11 team at all.
“The shorter games have also helped us this season too. We’ve started half an hour earlier (at 12.30), there were ten overs less per side and there were no teas. You were finding that you were done by five o’clock in the afternoon. Hopefully it will stay the same.
“I spoke to our secretary and I believe that the Hampshire League and Southern League are going to ask teams if they want to continue with no teas next season. The traditionalists will say that we must have them but, to be honest, most of us are pretty happy to grab a meal deal on the way to the ground and, because we’re finishing earlier, it’s really not much of an issue now anyway.
“And, let’s face it, no tea anyone could make would ever match the one we had at Lord’s!”
Calmore were spoilt rotten on Sunday. But there’s clearly plenty of food for thought for the champions as they head into winter.