SOUTH Wilts’ start to the ECB Southern Premier League season has begun just as it did in 2021 – with a defeat.

Last May, Bashley thrashed them by nine wickets on the opening day of a season, in which South Wilts took until June to win a match yet still went on to win the title.

Twelve months on, St Cross Symondians repeated the dose, by a five-wicket margin, chasing down the title holders’ 209-7 to win with 10 overs to spare – a result that could prove very significant in the long term.

Alongside Bashley, South Wilts and St Cross Symondians have been the major SPL players in recent years, all three winning championships, and last summer, South Wits did the double over their Winchester rivals on the way to securing the crown for the first time since 2015.

In hindsight, South Wilts probably erred by batting first after skipper Ben Draper had won the toss.

“We were going to bowl first,” opposition captain Ed Ellis confirmed.

“We thought the only time the pitch might do anything would be first thing, but to be fair it was pretty good throughout.”

The white ball did seam about early on and South Wilts lost two of their stroke makers, Tom Morton and Peter Rowe, both trapped leg before wicket, at 21 and 32.

Left-hander Jack Stearman had not enjoyed the most prolific of pre-seasons but he knuckled down to play a pivotal role – his 61, which contained some eye-catching shots, taking 133 balls.

But it was what South Wilts needed as the bowling was tight, wickets were falling and Symondians’ out-cricket was good.

Ben Draper, in contrast, has been in terrific form. He made a neat 34 before being bowled by man-of-the-match Charlie Gwynn, who not long after got a leg before decision to remove the often-dangerous James Hayward (16).

South Wilts had been scoring runs for fun in the pre-season games, but they struggled to impose themselves as the overs ticked by.

Young Matt Falconer brought a ray of sunshine to proceedings. The 15-year-old left-hander looked to have time as he underlined his potential with some flowing shots in an unbeaten 34, a cameo which hoisted South Wilts’ total to 209-7.

It did not help South Wilts’ cause that three key players, Jack Mynott, Raff Hussey and Ben Huntley were all missing – but Falconer’s batting more than compensated for one of the absentees.

Josh Croom soon removed teenage Symondians’ opener Ben Foster, but Harry Trussler (24) stuck to his task and watched Tom Foyle (39) go for his shots – in typical style, 32 of his runs came in fours before he lofted an intended big hit into Morton’s safe hands (76-3).

Brad Taylor (15) added some handy runs, but by now Gwynn was beginning to assert his authority. Some of the bowling became ragged, Croom often struggling to find his line and the normally economical Tom Grant (2-45) conceding 13 wides, albeit dismissing Trussler and Foyle in the process.

Gwynn lost Ellis cheaply (148-5), but was in control, playing the best innings of the day, one sumptuous pull shot to mid-wicket off Croom being particularly noteworthy.

The situation was perfect for Jack Bransgrove (32 not out) to score freely. He added an unbroken 65 with Gwynn as St Cross cruised home in the 40th over.

South Wilts skipper Ben Draper defended his decision to bat first but reflected: “We probably lacked 10 per cent in the three areas of skill, but we’ll bounce back at Lymington on Saturday.”

South Wilts are in ECB Royal London Cup action at Bemerton on Sunday afternoon with West of England Premier Division side Lansdown the visitors (1pm).

A weakened South Wilts second team were thrashed by 167 runs at Langley Manor, who posted a hefty 280-9. Joe Cranch took 5-49 before South Wilts replied with 113.