Harmer spins Hampshire to narrow defeat

By Connor Steel

HAMPSHIRE CRICKET were stunted in their quest to leapfrog rivals Surrey at the top as LV= Insurance County Championship action returned after two weeks away; James Vince’s side falling to a twelve run defeat to Essex at Chelmsford on Tuesday afternoon despite a comeback from the away batters in the 2nd innings. And there was no doubt on the man of the match as Simon Harmer took fifteen away wickets for the hosts; returning his best first class figures as he spun the batsmen into disarray on an extremely slow and turning pitch that caused difficulties from the first day of this thriller that was completed in eight sessions.

But it wasn’t a perfect start for Essex as they were reduced to 16-3 from the first hour after batting first; Nick Browne (0) seeing his stumps smashed by Kyle Abbott for the first wicket. Sir Alastair Cook (5) then followed as he pushed Keith Barker to third slip and Dan Laurence (2) was trapped LBW by Brad Wheal. This brought Paul Walter alongside Tom Westley, the pair improving the overall run rate with multiple fours in a forty run partnership; which was ended when the former was deemed LBW off Ian Holland for 24 runs. And just two balls later Michael Pepper became the second victim of the bowler as he was caught on the drive for a duck; Westley and Adam Rossington leading a struggling Essex to 72-5 at the lunch interval.

Another thirty-one runs were added by the pair after lunch before both fell in quick succession; Rossington edging onto his stumps off Abbott for twenty-two before Westley departed LBW to Liam Dawson leaving the hosts on 105-7. A new batting pair was created in the form of Harmer and Shane Snater who attacked the bowlers; smashing a quickfire 59 run partnership that was ended when Hamer was out for 19 to Dawson. But Snater continued and passed his fifty in 47 balls, helping Essex reach their first earned bonus point and progressing to 71 after tea with two sixes before he was dismissed by Abbott. And another sixteen runs were scored in one over to end the innings; Aaron Beard departing for thirty-three as his side were all out for 238.

In response Hampshire lost their first wicket after six balls as Felix Organ was caught in the gully off Sam Cook’s bowling for a duck, before Nick Gubbins and Holland set about making inroads into Essex’s score. But just as they were looking settled the visitors lost three quick wickets that started as Cook trapped Holland (11), before Hamer dismissed Vince (1) coming down the pitch and had Dawson (4) caught at short leg by the wicketkeeper ten balls later. It got worse when Gubbins was dismissed by Harmer for 34 in the final overs of day 1; the spinner finishing his first spell with 4-23 as he had Aneurin Donald caught for a duck to leave Ben Brown and James Fuller surviving the last 29 balls before the close after sixteen wickets.

Resuming on 68-6 Brown (38) and Barker (24) adopted a new approach of scoring quick runs as they passed the 100 mark within a few overs; the latter hitting two fours alongside a maximum off Harmer’s spin that ultimately proved his downfall as he was bowled to leave Hampshire on 105-7. This brought Fuller to the crease alongside Brown with this pair adding a further 22 runs before the new batsman was caught off Harmer; the away wicketkeeper following suit shortly afterwards as he was caught by his counterpart leaving the visitors on 138-9. Damage limitation was key for the last pair with Abbott hitting three maximums off a Laurence over in his twenty-seven off 14 balls; Harmer ending the innings with 8-46 as he dismissed Abbott and Hampshire were dismissed for 163 facing a deficit of 75 runs following the first hour of play on day 2.

Essex added twenty-four runs to their lead in the second innings before losing their first two wickets in the sixth over; Organ seeing both Alistair Cook (16) and Tom Westley (0) caught in successive turning deliveries. Browne then hit three boundaries in quickfire fashion but ran out of partners either side of lunch; Dawson spinning out Laurence (12) and Pepper (1) before Walter (1) was Organ’s third wicket to leave the hosts on 51-5. But these wickets brought Rossington alongside Browne with different styles, the pair softening the turning ball as they put on 54 runs to restore a strong home position stretching towards a 200 run lead.

Dawson removed Browne for 33 to break the partnership, bringing Harmer to speed up the run-rate with the score on 105-6. Backed up by the spinner, Rossington reached his fifty before being dismissed for 60 including three maximums on the stroke of tea. And 152-7 became 186-8 following a quick blast from Snater either side of a rain related stoppage; Harmer adding eight boundaries as he helped his team pass two hundred and reached his own half century. But fresh from claiming a five-for Dawson removed the spinner for 61 and then dismissed Simon Cook for a 1st ball duck, ending Essex’s innings on 223 all out and setting Hampshire a huge target of 299 to win on a pitch outfield that definitely favoured the bowling side overall.

Hampshire started day three on 35-0 following Organ’s brutal assault on Harmer in a late spell the previous evening, bringing his tally to five maximums as he targeted the spinner in his bid to disrupt the turn and bounce. He was brilliantly backed by Holland down the other end as the opener passed his fifty and beyond, paying a huge part in a 97-run partnership in just twenty-six overs; the opening wicket falling when Organ was bowled by Harmer for sixty-five. And the carnage continued as Fuller scored a quickfire seventeen runs including a maximum before being dismissed by Beard; Holland (37) joining him back in the pavilion caught off a Harmer turner. The spinner also dismissed Gubbins (9) before Dawson edged (5) to slip for Beard’s second to leave Hampshire on 140-5 with twenty-five minutes until lunch in a free-hitting but fast session.

Although James Vince was out for thirteen, this wicket brought Donald and Brown at the crease with the pair showing mixed techniques in a counter-attack either side of the interval. Donald hit four boundaries as he hit 29 quickfire runs at a rate of nearly two per ball, Brown joining him by adding a slower paced twenty-six to put the away side past the 200 mark. Looking in control Harmer dismissed both batsmen LBW and bowled respectively to leave Hampshire 0n 213-8, with the match completely in the favour of Essex at this point; fans already expecting a quick conclusion. But they were wrong as Barker and Abbott continued to resist the bowlers adding forty-one runs with little resistance including one maximum alongside quick running; Abbott becoming the ninth wicket of the innings for 20 runs trapped LBW by Harmer. And following a last wicket partnership of 32 with Brad Wheal led by his slogging that scared the home bowlers; Barker tried one big shot too many and was caught in the deep by Walter to seal jubilant home celebrations at their close victory.

Hampshire’s defeat at Chelmsford combined with other results, including a rain affected draw for Surrey, means they stay second in the table after eight games; with five wins, one draw and two defeats. Their next four day encounter will see them host Warwickshire on July 11 at the Ageas Bowl, but attentions must turn to the Vitality Blast with two crucial games this weekend. The Hawks are set to play Gloucestershire on Friday night in Southampton. before travelling to play Sussex Sharks on Sunday afternoon (14:30) at Hove; with two wins guaranteeing their place in the competition’s quarter finals scheduled to be played over next week.

PICTURED BY ESSEX CRICKET: Harmer celebrates one of his 15 wickets whilst away batter watches on.