As I remember it Hampshire’s 1987(8?) AGM was when members were first informed about the possibility of a new ground, Northlands Road too small and in the not-so-green 1980s parking a problem. It became a project with a long run-up, dependent on the sale of the ground to help fund a new one, and as the property market boomed, slumped and recovered to an extent the idea passed through cold storage before taking hold.
Time enough for those who ran the Hospital Broadcasting service then to comment, if only to each other, that for spectators Northlands Road only occasionally had a capacity problem and, if the aim was Test cricket, the Oval was not so very far away. Time enough also for committee ambition for the new ground to grow apart from the funds for it, and Ivo Tennant’s book is candid, and quite detailed on this, on those who were directly involved: ‘we were a little bit delusional’.
A financial barometer was put on the wall by the entrance to the old pavilion to show progress with funding, it didn’t move and the end beckoned. At which point Hants got decidedly lucky with Rod Bransgrove who stepped in: Back from the Brink portrays a personable cricket-loving man, blunt at times, kind to those in need, not snobbish to those less articulate than himself, unusually for those at the top someone who had held down a manual job.
The machinations of allocating Test Matches at the ECB are gone into in some detail and the author remains sympathetic to his subject through them, although fundamentally six TMGs becoming nine this century has been too many, the building of the Rose Bowl one part of the problem. There are some good stories about his relations with players, appreciation for the role played by Robin Smith in bringing him and Shane Warne to the county. There are no concessions to diplomacy when on the growing pains of the ground, when on things that got acrimonious with some; Ivo Tennant’s accounts of what went on seem admirably clear.
So in the end a success story, with four years to look forward to an Ashes Test? To this reader it’s a rather qualified one: a big upgrade in facilities, greater capacity for T20 crowds and so on, yet the Rose Bowl also fits into a general picture of much centralisation, a game that has been heading up-market. The book mentions that in the 1960s Rod Bransgrove was a bus-ride away from watching professional players, in 2023 cricket has a problem with the numbers growing-up for whom that isn’t true.