Hampshire in title race after Edgbaston thriller

By Connor Steel / Photograph by Tony Marshall

HAMPSHIRE CRICKET roared back into the County Championship title race with a thrilling 60-run victory versus Warwickshire in a topsy-turvy encounter under blue skies throughout Edgbaston.

It was also a match that saw 20 wickets fall on day one as both sides collapsed, before the pitch surface flattened out and allowed batters to take control in the second innings and push the match into its final day.

But there was drama before a ball had been bowled in Birmingham as a Hampshire member tested positive for Covid-19, meaning the game was in doubt on Sunday morning. However an investigation between the ECB and medical staff deemed the match safe to play, although day one started an hour late at 11.30am with Warwickshire choosing to bowl on a seamer friendly surface.

The hosts got off to an outstanding start as they took their first wicket in the fifth over; Joe Weatherley was trapped LBW off Craig Miles to make the score 6-1. This soon turned to 44-1 as Ian Holland and Tom Alsop steadied the ship, before Hampshire’s innings simply imploded with home captain Will Rhodes doing the damage. The bowler ripped through the middle order as he found extra pace, dismissing Alsop, Nick Gubbins and Liam Dawson, who were all caught, while Chemar Holder sent Holland back to the pavilion with the score on 51-5 from 17 overs.

Another 21 runs were scored with James Vince the anchor-man, but even the inform captain couldn’t stop the next clatter of wickets, three wickets falling in the space of two overs. Felix Organ became victim four for Rhodes, before Liam Norwell took the wickets of both James Fuller and Keith Barker in successive deliveries to leave the score on 74-8. James Vince was then dismissed in the 26th over as he was caught for 21 off the bowling of Rhodes, who clinched five for 28 in his eight-over spell. Hampshire’s innings was finished just three overs later in the final action before lunch as Pakistan’s Mohammad Abbas edged to slip and was caught by Sam Hain to become Miles’ second wicket; the visitors routed for 89 all out with no batting points earned.

Not that Warwickshire started any better at the crease after lunch, losing opener Rob Yates for a duck in the fourth over to leave them 5-1. Hampshire then took another three wickets within two overs as Chris Benjamin become Keith Barker’s second victim (including Yates), whilst Abbas dismissed both Dominic Sibley (six runs) and captain Rhodes in successive balls from the ninth over. By then it was 11-4, with the fifth wicket coming 15 runs later as Barker dismissed Matthew Lamb after the batsman edged behind the stumps. But thankfully for media and supporters the game did settle for around two hours either side of tea, Sam Hain (44) and Michael Burgess (27) put together a 60-run partnership off 22 overs as Warwickshire slowly edged towards a lead.

The hosts’ sixth wicket fell just two runs short of an advantage with Burgess dismissed by Abbas to become the bowler’s fourth victim, before another small partnership took the score past 100. But when Hain was out, another clatter of wickets followed as Warwickshire were all out for 116 runs to give them a lead of 25. Miles became the fifth victim for Abbas, before Barker dismissed Danny Briggs on 19 to complete his own five and share the 10 Warwickshire wickets. This left Hampshire with an hour to bat on day one, which they ended unscathed with no further dismissals in the 11 overs played before bad light ended play just before the 7pm cut-off time.

After the carnage of the first day, the second started more sedately despite the dismissal of Weatherley who was trapped LBW off Norwell’s seam bowling. With the score left on 55-1 at this point another 54 runs were added in the morning session before Warwickshire struck a double blow just before lunch to leave the Hawks on 117-3 at the interval. Norwell took the wicket of Holland for 44 runs, while Gubbins was caught off the bowling of Briggs within a six over spell that featured pinpoint bowling at both ends. The afternoon session started in hot conditions as bowlers toiled on a flattening surface that seemed to now favour the batsmen. But this didn’t stop four wickets falling in a two-hour period.

Briggs had his reward for great control after lunch as he got the wicket of Alsop who was stumped trying to attack down the ground, with the batsman scoring 33 off 93 deliveries. Liam Dawson was quickly trapped by Norwell seven overs later, which left the score on 156-5. But Vince proved tougher to dislodge as he moved to 48 runs off 66 balls. A misjudgement in the captain’s concentration saw him fire a shot straight into the gloves of Lamb just short of a half century. Four balls later, Fuller was dismissed – his stumps splattered by Miles to leave the score on 173-7 off 63 overs. These two wickets brought Organ and Barker to the crease with the former scoring three unbeaten runs in the hour before tea on the second day. But when the young batsman was dismissed for 16 runs after two hours of batting patience, this left Hampshire on 208-8 after a 30-run partnership and unlikely to set a target of 200-plus with the new ball taken just before the eighth over.

But away fans shouldn’t have worried as Barker took control of the lower innings in a 42-over partnership with Brad Wheal, which yielded 93 runs across days two and three. The ex-Warwickshire player dominated his old team as he scored 75 runs in a four-hour period at the crease, hitting eight boundaries and many singles to push Hampshire’s innings over the 300 run mark. But a tired shot by the batsman ended his fantastic innings as Barker lifted an effort into the hands of Benjamin, giving Holder another wicket. Another small partnership was built before the visitors were all out for 322 just as Abbas was caught by Yates as Briggs got his fourth wicket of the innings. This meant the hosts needed 296 to win off five sessions and two overs, or approximately 150 sets of six deliveries.

Yates and Sibley negotiated the potentially awkward 12 balls before lunch as well as the 33 overs in the period before tea. The openers concentrated hard and left skilfully, reaching their 50-run partnerships in the 29th over with a boundary; whilst Hampshire were dealt an injury blow as Abbas had to leave the field and stopped bowling as he pulled up in his run-up. But to the visitors’ credit they kept the scoreline steady and persevered impressively despite their lack of wickets, getting the reward in the final hour of play at a hot and muggy Edgbaston.

With the score on 99-0 in the 51st over, Sibley tried to attack on a rare occasion, but only sent his attempted sweep off a Dawson delivery into the gloves of Alsop behind the stumps. The spin bowler then added the wicket of Benjamin to his collection as the batsman continued to increase the run-rate, perishing after a shot was caught by Barker at mid-on. Buoyed by these two wickets, Hampshire were now on top. But Yates and Hain defended through the last nine overs of the day to leave the hosts on 139-2, 157 runs to win or eight wickets for Hampshire to take the match.

Just 10 overs into the final day, a third wicket fell for Warwickshire as Yates was dismissed LBW by Fuller for 77 runs off 229 days; which seemed to anger the hosts as they felt this decision was wrong and it seemed to change the flow of play. Hampshire took their fourth and fifth wicket wickets in quick succession with the new ball, Hain and Rhodes both edging behind after great bowling from Abbas, who seemed to recover from an apparent ankle injury. This left the score on 191-5 off 93 overs while Burgess soon took the score past the 200-run mark, before he edged behind for 11 just before the lunch break.

Ddespite these dismissals Warwickshire were still favourites as they progressed to 231-6, needing 65 runs to win with four wickets to spare. But in one final twist of this thrilling match that ebbed and flowed, Hampshire dismissed the final four batsmen in a spell of three overs to clinch a 60-run victory just before the tea break. The home collapse started as Briggs became Fuller’s second LBW dismissal of the innings, before Miles’ short innings was ended by Dawson’s probing spin bowling. A ninth wicket then arrived as Norwell attempted a quick single but was run out at the strikers end for a duck, while Wheal sealed the victory for Hampshire as Holder edged behind his delivery to spark huge celebrations amongst the away contingent.

Following on from the way they saved their last drawn game against Yorkshire, it was an amazing comeback victory for a side who remain unbeaten in County Championship Part 2. The 21 points earned from this victory sees Hampshire up to second in the table with two games left this season. The Ageas Bowl will host the penultimate match versus top placed Nottinghamshire starting on Sunday morning (12/09) before the finale against Lancashire versus Liverpool to decide who wins the title and the Bob Willis trophy. The Hawks will also play in the Vitality Twenty-20 blast finals day next Saturday, with their semi final versus Somerset taking place at Edgbaston with an 11am start in Birmingham.