Abergavenny is widely regarded by players, the Press and the general public as one of the most picturesque grounds on the first-class circuit. Its intimate atmosphere and rural location, nestling amongst the tree-topped hills on the Welsh border, a mile or so to the north of a small and friendly market town, to say nothing of its quaint pavilion and irregular boundary, all provide a tranquil atmosphere. The annual fixture at the ground provides a healthy reminder of what cricket must have been like in the pre-commercial era, and for those who play, work or watch at vast, anonymous concrete stadiums, visiting the Avenue Road ground must be a godsend and a breath of fresh air. The wicket has been of the highest standard, and a host of batting records have been established at the pretty ground, most recently in 1995 when Gloucestershire`s Anglo-Australian, hit a world record 20 sixes during the Championship match with Gloucestershire.
The Abergavenny club is amongst one of the oldest in South Wales. Formed in 1834, the club first played in the lush fields alongside the Rivers Usk or Gavenny, and during most of the 19th century their games were held at a variety of locations on these green meadows against teams of gentlemen or traders from towns in the neighbouring English counties. In 1884 they acquired a regular home on land owned by the industrialist Crawshay Bailey, but over time the wicket became rather poor, and the club lost fixtures as a result. A solution was found in 1896 when an approach to the Marquess of Abergavenny, resulted in a move to a four and a half acre field off Avenue Road, called Pen-y-Pound. The Marquess was a great supporter of cricket, having been President of Kent C.C.C. in 1878, and although spending little time in the market town, he was a kindly benefactor to its inhabitants.
The club went from strength to strength after the move, so much so, that the Marquess generously financed an enlarged pavilion. The new, improved wicket was also widely admired and in 1910 Monmouthshire staged their Minor County fixture game with Carmarthenshire at Avenue Road. In 1915 the Marquess of Abergavenny died, and much of his estate was sold for building land. However, Major J.R.Jacob, the Chairman and former captain of the club, helped to secure the freehold of the Pen-y-Pound ground for the cricket club.
Glamorgan`s amalgamation with Monmouthshire in 1935 led to the Welsh county staging second eleven, plus club and ground, fixtures at Abergavenny, and some of the club`s players were also chosen by the Glamorgan selectors. In 1948 the ground hosted the Minor County fixture with Devon, and with Glamorgan pledging to stage first-class matches in Monmouthshire, the Abergavenny officials hoped that their attractive home would be lucky enough to host a Championship fixture. The superior facilities and larger pavilion at Ebbw Vale won the day, but even so, the Abergavenny club didn`t lose heart and continued to be the host of special Benefit matches, both for Glamorgan players as well as those from neighbouring Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. However, by the mid 1960`s, Glamorgan were starting to cut back on the number of venues they played at, and for all of its charms, the likelihood of Avenue Road staging county cricket looked slim, and the club had to content itself with games in the Gwent Premier and Severn Counties League.
Disaster appeared to strike in 1977 as a fire severely damaged the pavilion and completely destroyed the adjoining tea room. But as it turned out, the fire proved to be a turning point in the history of the club as a generous grant from the Welsh Sports Council helped to pay for renovations and much larger facilities. These extensions happened at a lucky time, as in the 1980`s, Glamorgan also began to take cricket around the region again. Abergavenny made a formal request to stage a Sunday League game, and in 1981 the county committee allocated the match with Worcestershire to the Gwent ground.
The Glamorgan officials were suitably impressed by the hard work, both on and of the field by the Abergavenny folk, and in 1982 their efforts were rewarded with the Sunday match with Northamptonshire. Local businesses also offered generous sponsorship and in May 1983 Worcestershire visited Abergavenny once again as the ground staged its inaugural County Championship fixture.
Worcestershire and Gloucestershire have been regular vistors to the ground, and their batsmen, as well as the Glamorgan players, have enjoyed taking advantage of the placid wicket and small boundaries. One of the best examples was the 1990 fixture with Worcestershire. After Graeme Hick had recorded a superb 252* , Phil Neale set Glamorgan a target of 495 to win on the final day. They ended on 493-6, and came agonisingly close to setting a new championship record.
However, the most famous game in the ground`s short Championship history came in August 1995 as Andrew Symonds hit 254 and smashed the world six hitting record, by hitting 16 sixes in his double-century, followed by four more in the second innings. Almost unnoticed Indian all-rounder Javagal Srinath claimed 13-150 and his supreme efforts, on a ground regarded as a bowlers graveyard, were in keeping with the almost unreal atmosphere which is generated by this most idiosyncratic, and charming, of county cricket venues.
(Article: Copyright © 2003 Dr.A.K.Hignell)
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