Hampshire frustrated in battling Kent stalemate

By Connor Steel

HAMPSHIRE CRICKET were forced to settle for an away draw in their latest County Championship (red ball) encounter in Canterbury; the match drifting into an anti-climax following a stubborn batting display from Kent throughout the final day of action. But it was a marked improvement from Hampshire after a massive innings defeat last weekend; rain and bad light again affecting their chances of pushing for a third win of this season.

The visitors started brilliantly after winning the toss early on day one; Mohammed Abbas drawing a poor shot from Ben Compton (0) before Zak Crawley was trapped LBW by Keith Barker to leave Kent struggling at 12-2 in the sixth over. But a partnership of forty runs then followed between Tawanda Muyeye and Jack Leaning (24) as they saw off the next ten overs with a mixture of defensive and well-timed strokes on a quick outfield.

A third wicket arrived in the seventeenth over when Muyeye (28) was rapped on the pad for another LBW off James Fuller to secure a first bowling point; the bowler further removing Sam Billings in exact circumstances just thirteen deliveries later to make the score 56-4. The batters were unable to add to the score before lunch as a heavy downpours forced the players off just before 12:30pm; this weather delay lasting for over 3 hours.

Proceedings resumed with a steady partnership between Leaning and Jordan Cox (12) before Fuller took his third wicket as the latter edged before; the bowler further adding his fourth when he removed Joey Edison for a duck to leave Kent on 76-6. This became 94-7 as Kyle Abbott joined their attack and had Leaning driving at 3rd slip before Fuller completed his five wicket haul; Abbott then dismissing Wes Agar and Hamidullah Qadri.

This carnage meant that Hampshire earnt the three available bowling points with Kent’s opening innings only yielding 95 runs, a total that the visitors almost matched in the final twenty-two overs of day one. The visiting openers Fletcha Middleton (39*) and Joe Weatherley (38*) saw off the new ball with relative calmness as the clouds broke up above; the duo hitting multiple boundaries to reach 89-0 at close trailing the hosts by 6 runs.

However Hampshire were frustrated for the large majority of day two with the morning session wiped entirely due to heavy rain surrounding the stadium; high winds further adding to the delays as Kent staff were unable to erect the floodlights in ever-grey conditions. An early tea break was taken at 3:30pm as the light did slowly improve and two inspections then followed; play finally starting just after 5pm with around 28 overs allocated.

Despite bowler-friendly conditions Hampshire continued to dominate the attack with boundaries moving them into the lead; Middleton playing his shot wide to bring up the hundred run mark. There was also a chance for Kent as Weatherly edged a swinging ball from Michael Hogan and Crawley was unable to hold the drive with the scores now 103-0; bad light soon returning to end the second day after 27 minutes and five overs’ action.

Kent came out firing for day three and made an immediate impact with two quick wickets to leave Hampshire on 111-2; Agar removing Middleton (48) caught behind and then splaying the stumps of Nick Gubbins (1) just three balls later. Weatherley showed a sense of brief calmness as he reached his half century but couldn’t do anything when he became Agar’s 3rd victim for fifty eight; Ben Brown narrowly avoiding a dropped slip catch.

This energetic home bowling attack earnt another two fast dismissals as both Brown (10) and captain James Vince (24) were trapped LBW within the space of five balls; leaving Hampshire 159-5 and facing a potentially missed opportunities. This was not helped by a spell of nearly eight overs without scoring, Liam Dawson and Ian Holland resisting the pressures before adding an unbeaten thirty run partnership to enter lunch on 189-5.

Batting seemed to get easier during the afternoon session with Hampshire bringing up the two hundred mark without further loss before pushing forward; Holland hitting five boundaries and a huge maximum as Dawson passed his half century in style down the other end. A partnership of ninety-four was finally broken within the 77th over when Holland’s stumps were uprooted by Edison to depart for 41; Fuller joining Dawson on 253-6.

This seventh-wicket pair rode out the new ball period either side of the tea interval with the patient approach; firstly hitting the poor balls away to bring up the three hundred mark and a second batting point with multiple boundaries. But Kent still managed to cause problems with a succession of LBW appeals that were rejected by the umpire; this frustration shown in the celebrations when Dawson (84) was finally out caught at mid-off.

Abbott became the eighth batsman to exit when he was deemed LBW off Edison to leave Hampshire 340-8; signalling a second tweak to the batting approaches as they hit aggressively. This saw Fuller (51) and Barker (25) help secure a third batting point before the former was caught off a great delivery from Qadri; his partner becoming the final wicket to fall on 373 when he failed to clear the boundary as Evison claimed a third victim.

Kent started their second innings trailing by 278 runs and facing a tough twenty-five overs before the close of day three; Crawley and Compton bravely seeing off the new ball despite drops by Dawson in the eighth over. The pair continued to bat sensibly and took no risks as they edged towards their overnight score of 66-0 with relative ease; Dawson and Weatherley having to bowl the last four overs as poor light ruled out the seamers.

The openers continued to thwart the Hampshire bowlers early on the fourth and final day with conditions now favouring batting; Crawley adding the opening runs of the morning with a good drive for two. There was a big chance in the ninth over when an edge flew between two slip fielders but the duo stubbornly defended a vast majority of deliveries; both achieving the individual fifty marks either side of drinks to reach 115-0 in 41 overs.

Dawson finally got a breakthrough when he tempted Crawley (56) into a drive that was caught behind by the standing Brown; the visitors further celebrating when the spinner dismissed Muyeye for zero as his flick shot was grabbed at silly point. A third wicket then arrived just two overs later as Barker pinned Compton for LBW; Billings and Leaning hitting twenty runs during a very testing spell as they reached the lunch break on 146-3.

Multiple wickets were needed for the away team during the afternoon session and the fourth dismissal nearly came soon after the restart as a defensive shot dropped agonisingly short of the slip cordon; this scare being brushed off by the batsman who passed their fifty run partnership. But Hampshire didn’t give up and got their rewards as Billings was harshly deemed LBW for twenty-nine to leave Kent on 182-4 in the sixty-eighth over.

This dismissal seemed to frighten Kent as they sought to avoid a repeat of their first innings collapse; adding only twenty runs across a thirteen over period before the tea interval; Cox in full defensive mode with his first two runs coming after thirty-two deliveries from the seamers. The same batsman further brought up the 200+ run mark as he scored arguably the shot of the day; driving Barker’s yorker straight down the ground for four.

In reality the evening session followed a similar pattern as Leaning and Cox saw off their dangerous new ball spell without loss; Cox hitting back to back boundaries to move into double figures. Leaning stroking a single into the field as he brought up his half century and progressed to sixty-eight not out from 206 balls; the away side throwing Vince and Gubbins into bowling jobs but Kent reached 259-4 before the captains shook hands.

The eleven points gained from this match mean Hampshire are joint third in the Division One tables after five games; losing further ground on leaders Surrey who sit 25 points clear of Vince’s team. They will return back to the Ageas Bowl on Thursday for their next match against Northamptonshire before their full attention turns to a title defence of the Vitality Blast; the Hawks travelling to Somerset on Wednesday, May 24 in the opener.

PICTURED BY HAMPSHIRE CRICKET: Bowler James Fuller is congratulated by teammate as he takes one of his five wickets on day 1; the visitors frustrated by bad weather conditions and a stubborn Kent rearguard.