Hampshire in pole position for cricket title

By Connor Steel / Photograph by Alex Davidson

HAMPSHIRE CRICKET gave themselves a huge opportunity to win the County Championship for the first time since 1973 on Tuesday evening, beating top of the table Nottinghamshire and indeed rainy weather on a slow paced surface at the Ageas Bowl.

It was a huge statement of intent for the Hawks who now sit in pole position themselves after a 122-run victory in just three days, with neither side scoring more than 226 overall as bowlers dominated the batsmen in Southampton.

Winning the toss and choosing to bat first, Hampshire struggled against pinpoint bowling as they only scored one boundary in the first hour, with Nottinghamshire removing both home openers in this early spell. Joe Weatherly was caught off the bowling of Brett Hutton before Luke Fletcher trapped Ian Holland LBW moments later, leaving the hosts on 15-2 with blue skies above. This brought Tom Alsop to the crease alongside James Vince to temporarily steady the ship. But the former was dismissed five overs before lunch as Hampshire limped to the first interval with scoring rates an issue on 53-3.

Accompanied by Nick Gubbins, the captain began to accelerate the run-rate with four amazing strokes to the ropes as the pair added another 34 runs in eight post-lunch overs. But just as the hosts were looking more settled, Nottinghamshire took their fourth wicket for 87 runs when Vince was caught behind. However Gubbins took control of the innings as he scored eight boundaries with Liam Dawson down the other end, with the top order batsman hitting 50 runs to take Hampshire to 125-3 off 48 overs as the ball was moving around the crease. This led to the fifth wicket falling as Gubbins was dismissed in the 51st over, becoming a victim of Joey Evison for 54 runs after being dropped three times off the teenager. A sixth wicket fell just before the tea break with Dawson out for 31 to become Dane Paterson’s second dismissal; leaving proceedings at an equal heel at the second interval with the score on 175-6 off 66 overs.

Nottinghamshire started the final session of day one in style, taking three further wickets for 16 runs to leave them on 193-9. All-rounders Keith Barker and James Fuller fell for 19 and 13 runs respectively with Paterson and Hutton each picking up their third wickets, while Brad Wheal survived four balls before his stumps were destroyed by Notts captain Steven Mullaney. Thankfully for Hampshire, though, Felix Organ earned his side their first batting point as he guided the total past 200 with Abbas, falling to the bowling of Fletcher with a score of 36 runs including aix boundaries. Bowling Hampshire out for 226 and 10 overs until the close, Nottinghamshire battled their way to 29-1, losing England batsman Haseeb Hameed to bowler Barker before bad light ended play.

Hampshire were in dreamland within the first over of day two, with Keith Barker seeing catches to dismiss both Joe Clarke and Ben Duckett within four balls. The seam-bowler then took his fourth wicket with the score on 31 as he trapped Mullaney LBW, before completing his five-for with a similar dismissal to send Tom Moores back to the pavilion and leave Notts stranded on 39-5 after 12 overs. Amongst the rumble, however, opener Ben Slater batted well and posted a gritty half century inside a 70-run partnership with Liam Patterson-White that saw them through to lunch.

Yet again, though, Nottinghamshire lost a wicket after the restart as Barker took his sixth wicket when he kissed the edge of Slater’s bat and the ball found its way into the hands of Alsop behind the stumps. Evison became the seventh and final dismissal of Barker’s 7-46, the seam bowler’s career best at the age of 34 to leave the visitors on 115-7. Patterson-White then brought up his own 50 in a stand of 30 runs with Brett Hutton before the duo departed in successive balls, Wheal bowling the former and the latter being caught in the deep off James Fuller for one run. Dane Paterson was dismissed for six as the final wicket of the innings for Wheal, delivering Hampshire a handy 71 runs going into the second innings with two days and a session still to play in Southampton.

In a spell either side of the tea interval, Hampshire openers Ian Holland and Joe Weatherley got off to a solid start as they put on 26 runs for the first wicket only for Patterson to run through tthe top order. The South African bowler dismissed all of Holland, Alsop and Gubbins in a spell of three overs, which was accompanied by Weatherley’s innings being ended by Fletcher leaving the hosts on 28-4 in the 12th over. But not for the first time in this match James Vince (52) and Liam Dawson (28) put together a crucial partnership to take Hampshire past the 100, amassing over 80 runs in their dominant spell against the bowlers. However Nottinghamshire removed both batsman with Patterson-White trapping the spinner LBW and Fletcher splattering the home captain’s stumps from an in-swinging delivery. The last wicket of day two fell just four overs before the close as Organ was sent back to the pavilion for 11 after a close LBW decision, with Hampshire on 133-7 once all allocated deliveries had been bowled.

Day three started with a two-hour delay due to heavy rain, players returning to the pitch at 1pm after an early lunch. And the first hour was fairly even as Hampshire added 45 runs for the last three wickets, with Patterson-White taking all of Wheal (3), Barker (29) and Fuller (21) in a seven-over spell that saw him pick up a five-for in this second innings. This mean that Nottinghamshire needed a total of exactly 250 runs to win the match, with over 120 overs still to bowl on a crumbly pitch and slow outfield surface following the earlier weather.

Abbas made an initial breakthrough as the visitors batted steadily for 40 minutes, taking the wicket of Hameed whose shot was held by Organ at short leg. A partnership of 44 runs between Ben Slater (25) and Ben Duckett (33) was also ended by the fast seam bowler, seeing the latter trapped LBW playing across the line to make the score 64-2 off 22 overs. From this point forward, it was spin that played the deciding factor for Hampshire, with Organ and Dawson doing the damage in a brilliant spell after the tea break.

When Slater was removed by Dawson to leave the score on 72-3, it sparked a collapse of four wickets for 24 runs across nine overs. The English spinner added both Mullaney and Clarke to his collection, whilst Organ took the wickets of Patterson-White and Moores in quick succession to leave the visitors staring defeat in the face with the score on 97-7 off 42 overs. An eighth wicket fell soon afterwards as Organ took his final dismissal of the match, removing Hutton for three runs as he edged into the stumps, meaning the bowler finished with figures of 3-22 from 11 overs.

Down the other end Dawson was looking dangerous following his earlier spell, removing the final two batsman after some mini-resistance from the lower order. Fletcher was trapped LBW by the spinner before youngster Evison was the last batsman to fall, hitting 22 runs including one six in an hour’s stand at the crease as the bowler got his five for (5-45). This final wicket fell at approximately 5.50pm on day three ending the Nottinghamshire second innings on 127 all out, confirming a Hampshire win by 122 runs much to the joy from the home contingent. The Hawks take another 20 points from this encounter, overtaking their opponents into first position and sent Nottinghamshire down to third place depending on other results yet to be decided. Hampshire have a total of 58.5 pts from four games, although an ECB investigation could be launched for ‘poor pitch preparation’ with the visiting captain calling the surface ‘unacceptable’ after his side’s humbling defeat.

Regardless the extra day gained from this result will no doubt help Hampshire as they prepare for their Vitality Twenty-20 blast encounter with Somerset on Saturday morning. This semi-final will start at 11am and feature as part of a triple header finals day at Edgbaston, with the winners of both semis due to clash in the final starting at 6.45pm the same evening. All the action will be available to watch on Sky Sports Cricket, with highlight packages placed onto YouTube soon afterwards.

The Hawks will want to end Saturday with one part of a potential double, with the side now in pole position to clinch the County Championship Title that will be decided on September 24. Hampshire’s final game will start next Tuesday (21/09) with a trip to Liverpool to play Lancashire, who have their own ambitions of trophy glory. If they finish in the top two in Division One, the Hawks may also contest the Bob Willis Trophy; with this decided in an one-off 5-day final at Lords to be played on September 28 to October 2.