The village of Curdridge is situated in the 'pretty' part of Hampshire at the southern end of the Meon Valley, just a few miles north of the suburban sprawl of Southampton and Portsmouth.
Curdridge Cricket Club form an integral part of village life, sharing the facilities with 'The Reading Room', a community use building, and the Scouts. The local primary school also use the outfield for sports activities. The club was formed back in 1853.
In 1984 the club replaced 'the nissan hut' with a new pavilion which includes a licensed bar with patio area for village use.
Each year, in July, the ground is used for the Curdridge Country Show, now into its 53rd year. It attracts over 6,000 people who enjoy a variety of stalls and attractions throughout the day. The show enables the cricket club to earn much-needed income from bar and food sales.
The club run two teams - a Saturday and Sunday side. Total club membership currently hovers at around 30, with players paying £40 annual subs and £7 match fees. The income from the Country Show, and bar takings throughout the year are, therefore, vital to the club's survival. A peppercorn rent for use of the ground also helps to keep costs down.
In 2003, the Club celebrated its 150th Anniversary with a few special events. Games against the MCC and a Hampshire 2nd XI were followed by a 30-strong party touring Barbados and playing four games at The Wanderers Cricket Club. Curdridge won the last game and, in doing so, became the first touring team to defeat the home side for more than two decades.
Perhaps flushed with this success, in the same year the Saturday side joined the Hampshire League, leaving the Sunday team to play the traditional 'friendlies' against other local villages.
The grounds are maintained by John Anthony, a past player who took over the role of volunteer groundsman six years ago. He had no previous experience of maintaining cricket pitches and only took it on because no one else volunteered when the then groundsman retired.
When he started the club only had one wicket mower and a powered roller, both of unknown 'vintage', to maintain the square. His first priority was to get the committee to invest in more equipment to make his job easier and, more importantly, improve the quality of the square.
John has now acquired several new and secondhand pieces of equipment, including two 24" Ransomes nine bladed mowers, a Super Certes 61 and Super Bowl 61, one for cutting the square and the other for preparing wickets. He has also picked up a pedestrian Sisis Rotorake, Sisis Lawnmaster and a set of Ransomes triple gangs for the outfield.
To improve his knowledge he attended a number of cricket groundsmen's training courses and met with other local groundsmen. He has also recently been appointed to the Hampshire Cricket Groundsmen's Association as a pitch inspector. John also stands as umpire at most of the club's home games.
The square is quite small, with only eight tracks. It was completely relaid fifteen years ago, with volunteers from the club doing most of the work themselves. The old loam was stripped out to a depth of 100mm and reconstructed with Ongar loam.
End of season renovations are done as early as possible and are usually completed by mid September, making good use of the weather and optimum soil temperatures for seed germination.
John, with the assistance of a few members, used to undertake the work himself but, for the last four years the club have retained the services of a local contractor, Roy Michael, who scarifies the square (three ways) with tractor mounted equipment and then topdresses. He also deep aerates the square a couple of times leading up to Christmas.
The square is overseeded with a perennial dwarf rye seed mix and between 8 and 10 bags of loam are applied on each track.
John says that employing Roy has certainly helped to improve the square, and that the amount of rubbish removed is astounding. All the work is completed in a day with John's assistance.
He has recently retired from his job as a joiner for the Navy, which has given him more 'free time' at the club. During the playing season he spends between 30-40 hours a week working on the ground. The square is cut at 13mm during the playing season with the match height of cut around 3-4mm.
His ten day preparation involves wetting down the wicket, rolling, regular raking, brushing and mowing to clean up the wicket. The club have no raised covers or large flat sheets to cover the square. However, he does make use of one single pitch cover to help protect a strip once it has dried out. He aims to get two to three matches out of one strip.
John's son mows the outfield, usually on a Friday, weather permitting.
Funds have been made available to install a water main to the edge of the square, which will be completed this winter, and there are proposals to relay one of the wickets, work which they plan to undertake themselves.
The club would also like to set up a junior section, however, it is proving difficult to attract enough youngsters, as many of the local teams already have strong junior set ups.
Sometimes, against the odds, John has consistently delivered pitches that are considered to be among the best in the Hampshire League, culminating in a 'best pitch' award four years ago.
John really loves working at the club and sees plenty of challenges in the coming years, especially as he's now got a thirst for groundsmanship.
Considering the club spend very little on the grounds - around £1500-1800 a year - the quality of pitches and overall presentation is a credit to the hard work done by John and his fellow members.
I am sure the club will continue to be a major asset for the village of Curdridge for many years to come.