HAMPSHIRE Cricket and heartbreaking drama combined yet again in the final game of the season, with Lancashire winning by one wicket in Liverpool to end the Hawks’ trophy dreams in 2021 following their Twenty-20 blast defeat last weekend.
Not for the first time this campaign, Hampshire couldn’t quite get over the line as they suffered a low first innings total with no batting points before narrowly missing out at the very end. This defeat means the Hawks finish third in the final standings after harbouring hopes of their first County Championship title since 1973, taking just three points from this ebb-and-flowing encounter in dry conditions that could have gone either way.
On a bowling surface, Lancashire won the toss and elected to field first, making a dream start as Ian Holland was caught at short leg by Dane Vilas off Tom Bailey’s delivery to leave the Hawks on one-for-one in just the third over of play. More probing and pinpoint bowling then limited the scoring rate, Joe Weatherley and Tom Alsop (24) putting on 42 runs in 17 overs before the latter edged behind a ball to second slip from all-rounder George Balderson to leave the Hawks on 43-2.
Like the buses, one wicket quickly became three as Hampshire were reduced to 48-4 in the 25th over. Balderson picked up a second wicket as he enticed Nick Gubbins, who fired his third ball to home wicketkeeper Alex Davis without scoring and exited to the stands for a duck. The bowler sealed his third victim to finish on 21-3 off 14 overs as he ended resistance from Weatherley who edged behind for 18 runs off 61 balls during his near two-hour spell at the crease.
These wickets brought James Vince and Liam Dawson to the pitch, with the two middle order batsmen creating an eight over partnership covering the lunchtime interval into the afternoon session. The two men hit 24 unbeaten before Liam Dawson’s wicket fell in a huge stroke of luck for the Lancashire fielders, with the spinner’s drive deflected onto the stumps off Bailey’s fingertips for a run out at the strikers’ end. In the same over captain Vince was dismissed attempting a big swipe over mid-on, but misjudged his shot into the wicketkeeper’s glove behind the stumps. It left Hampshire on 71-6 in the 33rd over alongside awarding Lancashire a second and potentially vital second bowling point of the day.
Mid-way through the 42nd over home wicketkeeper Davies took a stunning catch down the leg side off Luke Wood’s bowling, dismissing Keith Barker for nine runs following a 20-run partnership with Organ who was joined by Mason Crane at the crease. At this point the Hawks were 91-7, but the batsmen put on 29 to take them to 120-7 before the eighth wicket fell before tea. After being dropped on nought Organ didn’t get a second reprieve as he was caught by Josh Bohannon in the 56th over, departing for 22 runs off 63 balls. Crane then picked up the mantle and combined with Brad Wheal in a 14-ver spell that only saw 12 runs scored, slowing the rate to under two an over on a poor batting surface.
Parkinson then ended the lower order resistance as he trapped Wheal LBW (5), before wrapping up the innings when Crane was out for 25 in the 74th over; the hitter scoring the highest in the Hampshire team with 25 runs after more than two hours of batting. The bowler ended with figures of 3-9 off 12 overs, meaning Hampshire were all out for 143 and not getting any batting points for the fourth time in the last month.
After changing innings Lancashire had 90 minutes of batting before close, with Hampshire taking three wickets in 14 overs to leave the Red Rose on 15-3. Mohammad Abbas dismissed Davis (4) by splattering his stumps, then ending Balderson’s short stay at the crease, both of these wickets coming either side of Barker’s dismissal of Luke Wells trapped LBW for a duck. This meant that Hampshire picked up a bowling point, although Warwickshire were doing well and had leapfrogged the Hawks, earning at least three batting points against Somerset at Edgbaston.
Resuming on 25-3 on day two, Lancashire lost two further wickets as the opening bowlers got one each. Josh Bahannon (13) was sent back to the pavilion after a brilliant one-handed catch by Weatherley at second slip to give Barker a second wicket, before night-watchman Jack Blatherwick (4) was dismissed by Abbas caught trying to defend a seaming delivery. This left Lancashire on 27-5 and in trouble following a spell of five successive maidens, with Hampshire one wicket away from a second bowling point as Somerset’s bowlers begin to toil at Edgbaston.
After a slow and steady partnership yielding 20 runs, both the sixth and seventh wickets fell within the same over from Barker to leave Lancashire on 47-7. The fast bowler saw the back of Dane Vilas as he drove to Dawson for seven runs, while Danny Lamb edged behind four balls later for a duck with the grateful Weatherley taking his third catch of the innings. Still trailing by nearly 100 runs the Red Rose needed some inspiration, with Steven Croft and Luke Wood at the crease just before lunch.
The pair did brilliantly to put together a partnership of 46 from just under 10 overs, with Wood dominating the striker’s end. The batsman hit five fours and one six to score 37 off 41 balls before he was caught attempting another six off Brad Wheal’s delivery, instead edging behind the stumps into the hands of Alsop to leave Lancashire on 93-8. But the lower order continued to impress with the bat, Croft (40) and Bailey (23) combining to add another 38 unbeaten runs. Again this increased the run-rate to around 2.5 per over but it was in vain as Lancashire were all out for 141 and offered Hampshire a two-run lead going into the second innings. It was Abbas who got the final two wickets, ensuring he got his five-for in exactly 22 overs on day two.
Hampshire’s lead was extremely marginal and they didn’t start well in their second innings, losing an early wicket as Holland fired into the hands of a fielder off Bailey’s third delivery. Two overs later, Bailey got his second wicket as makeshift opener Mason Crane saw his stumps destroyed to leave the visitors on one-for-two in the third over. This soon became 15-3 as the seamer struck again with an in-swinger, which was edged to wicketkeeper Davis behind the stumps. A short three overs of resistance was then ended when Gubbins played on and was bowled off a Balderson delivery, bringing Vince to the crease alongside Weatherley with the score on 24-4 after 12 overs.
The pair added 50 runs in just over an hour of batting to push Hampshire forward but lost their fifth wicket just before tea as Weatherly was bowled to become Bailey’s fourth wicket of the innings. It was a solid rear-guard from the batsman, who added 33 runs off 108 balls before his dismissal occurring with the score left on 78-5 in the 26th over. But any hopes that Lancashire were about to rout the lower order were ended as Liam Dawson, who proved to be another huge obstacle as he combined with his captain to drive Hampshire over the 100 run mark in the 35th over.
Overcoming a difficult spell of bowling looked to give Vince and Dawson huge confidence at around the 40th over, with the pair adding another 58 runs during the afternoon session. It was the captain who was the anchor-man as he reached his half century with a boundary, adding to his eight fours from 132 balls in nearly three hours of batting on a worsening pitch with uneven bounce/turn. Dawson played a superb supporting role adding 41 off 92 deliveries as the partnership looked to survive into day three following 31 overs of unbeaten batting displays, which was suddenly ended as two wickets fell in gloomy conditions to put the game into the balance yet again.
In the penultimate over before bad light intervened, Vince was trapped LBW by Matt Parkinson to end a fine innings in which he scored 69 runs overall. Five balls later, Bailey got his five-for when he dismissed Dawson as the yorker delivery beat the batsman before hitting the stumps, leaving the Hawks on 158-7 when the umpire called stumps on day two. This gave Hampshire an overall lead of 160 going into day three and arguably on top, with many believing that a Lancashire chase of 150 or more would be difficult given the pitch surface at Aigburgh.
Hampshire added exactly 35 runs for their last three wickets, Lancashire bowling their visitors out for 193 within the first hour of day three. Bailey trapped Felix Organ (8) in front of the stumps before claiming Barker’s wicket with a catch at third slip, the bowler finishing with 7-37 from 24 overs of seam. The final dismissal came from Balderson as he had Abbas caught behind for six, leaving Wheal unbeaten on 13 as the last man standing. The end of Hampshire’s batting left the Red Rose chasing 196 to win off nearly two days, a target that some felt was slightly over par but not impossible for the home side to reach.
After a short 10-minute delay due to bad light, Lancashire came out firing as they reached 50 without loss in the 15th over after an unbeaten spell either side of the lunch interval. Alex Davies was the key to this brilliant start as he scored 44 runs, including five fours and one six from just 43 deliveries alongside Balderson down the other end. But Hampshire did get a reward for their patience as they took two wickets in four balls, Dawson bowling Balderson and Barker claiming Davies with a catch at slip to leave Lancashire on 57-2 in the seventh over.
These two quick wickets brought Bohannon and Wells to the crease, with both batsman lending a sense of calm to proceedings as they took the Lancashire past 100 in just over an hour. This 55-run partnership seeing nine boundaries was ended by Crane as he dismissed Bohannon for 18, while Wells (37) continued to bat well for another over before he was caught at slip to leave the Red Rose on 119-4. However home nerves were eased when yet another partnership, this time between Croft and Vilas, took Lancashire to 150-4 in the 47th over before a fifth wicket fell to spark a nervous hour after tea that ultimately saw the climax.
This fifth wicket came with Lancashire needing 45 runs to win, Crane taking his second victim as he dismissed Croft for 20 to leave the score on 151-5. Another small partnership dominated by Vilas put the Red Rose in arguable control with the score 177-5, but there was to be a late twist with a cluster of wickets leaving Lancashire on 193-8 in the 65th over. Leg-spinner Crane was the architect as Lamb edged to second slip and Wood was caught at bat pad, while the bowler also ran out Bailey for no score with just three runs needed.
And supporters for both sides couldn’t watch as the Red Rose lost their ninth wicket to leave the score on 194-9, Crane sealing his own five-wicket haul when Blatherwick edged into the hands of Weatherly to send Hampshire fielders with their own dream of winning the game from an impossible position just 30 minutes earlier. Sadly they were unable to take the last wicket as Matt Parkinson blocked the final two balls of the over and left Vilas to hit the winning runs for Lancashire with a boundary. It was a fine shot despite the tension, sealing the batsman’s hero status as he finished with an unbeaten 47 runs in his match winning innings with the one wicket victory sealed just before 6pm on Thursday evening.
However Warwickshire’s victory over Somerset on Friday afternoon meant the Bears won the title in first place, while Lancashire finished second above Hampshire in the final league standings. The top two sides will now play at Lords from Tuesday in the Bob Willis Final, while Hampshire end their season empty-handed after a heartbreaking seven days and two defeats just when it mattered.
Hampshire captain James Vince was gutted not to add the Championship to his Hundred title already in 2021, but congratulated his side and emphasised his pride at being in this position after a long season that has seen the Hawks fight on three fronts until the final moments. In an interview with club media and BBC Radio Solent he said: “It does hurt but once the dust settles, I would rather have been in this position all season than playing in dead rubbers at the end.”
With the 2021 cricket summer season now complete until April next year, it offers Hampshire a chance to regroup and learn lessons for the next campaign. In the meantime, some of the Hawks contingent are expecting calls up to the England International squad for the Ashes test series or Twenty-20 world cup. These could include James Vince, Liam Dawson and Mason Crane, with squad announcements due to be made over the next few weeks as the winter tours begin.