The annual Bramble Bank challenge played in 'moist' conditions
‘Quintessentially English madness on a beautiful summer’s evening’, in the words of Royal Southern Yacht Club team captain Mark ‘Tommo’ Tomson, is as good a description of the Bramble Bank cricket match as you’ll find.
Played this year in conditions most generously described as ‘moist’, the Hamble club emerged triumphant over arch rivals the Cowes-based Island Sailing Club – it being their turn to win the annual mid-Solent encounter under the even-handed umpiring of Philip Gage.
As the two white flannel clad teams prepared for their watery encounter yesterday, another epic cricketing encounter, the Ashes, was clearly colouring some tactical decisions, even if the recorded scores would have flattered a dodgy accountant.
‘We went out there and assessed the wicket,’ said Tommo, a 15-year veteran of the match, seven as captain.
‘We won the toss so put the opposition in to bat and we bowled very well. We got a bit of reverse swing with all the moisture in the air – they found that tricky and really didn’t score many runs.
‘My men went in to bat and batted with true gusto and spirit, a bit like the Australians at The Oval today.
‘There were a couple of half centuries by Hugo (Morgan Harris) and Mike (Ewart-Smith) and then we had knight of the realm Sir Robin (Knox-Johnston) coming in at the tail end, and we really hammered them – a bit like the Ashes series this summer; just gave them a proper thrashing, 318 runs to their paltry 60.’
A favourite occasion
Even the absence of any fully exposed bank failed to dampen high spirits. Tommo added: ‘Well the wind and the weather dominate our lives down here on the south coast and we can’t always predict everything we’d like to.
‘The wind was up a bit more than we would have liked and we didn’t get as much mud bank as we hoped for, but it was still enough to have a good game of cricket – better than last year, not as good as the year before. I remember ’65 being a vintage year.
‘It’s one of my favourite days of the year, and being part of Splash Week as well – just being able to see all the kids and everyone out there enjoying themselves. What more could you want?’
It was a sentiment echoed by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, a regular member of the team over the past five or six years.
‘This is one of those events you can’t miss, can you?’ he said. ‘It’s a great crowd of people, enormous fun and nicely nautical – how else can you combine cricket with sailing? It shows imagination in my view.’
Of his own prowess with bat and ball he added: ‘It’s the best performance I’ve ever had. I actually connected with the ball and wasn’t bowled out first ball. Last year I was waved out – the ball landed in the water and a wave picked it up and hit my stumps, so I waded, I thought it was the gentlemanly thing to do.
‘With my six balls bowling there was only one run scored off them. Where the skill comes, when you can actually see the pitch which you couldn’t this year, is to aim for the pool nearest the batsman and land the ball so it throws up a spray of sand into his face and stops dead so he can’t hit it.’
The instigation of the eccentric event is credited to legendary Cowes yacht designer Uffa Fox, though precise historical details are thin on the ground. Suffice to say the Royal Southern took up the cudgels over 30 years ago in an event which is now a summer fixture.
Picture: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston goes in to bat: ‘It’s the best performance I’ve ever had.’ It was one also enjoyed by hundreds of spectators who gathered at the Bank to share the Royal Southern YC’s team victory in 2013. Credit: RSrnYC / Phil Riley