By Connor Steel
HAMPSHIRE HAWKS opened their much-anticipated Vitality Blast 2022 campaign in losing fashion on Friday evening, narrowly failing to chase down Middlesex in a ten run defeat at the Ageas Bowl. But although their first South Group encounter ended in defeat a good crowd in Southampton were treated to some entertainment and solid performances from the hosts, with the only real difference between the two sides being ‘death bowling’ on a topsy turfy evening that could have gone either way until the final six balls.
Having elected to bowl first Hampshire made a dream start as Brad Wheal took two wickets in the second over to make the score 13-2; debutants Nathan Ellis and Ben McDermott snaffling catches of Middlesex batsmen Steve Eskinazi and Joe Cracknell for single figures. A third wicket arrived after just 17 balls as experienced seamer removed Martin Andersson for a duck by smashing his stumps, leaving the visiting team struggling on 15-3 at the start of the fourth over and arguably fearing the worst result possible.
However this cluster of wickets brought Max Holden and Jack Davies to the crease, with the pair mounting a comeback over ten overs of batting. Holden hit five fours and one six, which was accompanied by Davies’ six predominately leg-side boundaries in a middle-over partnership of 77 coming from a mixture of quick running alongside big shots. The score reached 91-3 when Holden was stumped by Liam Dawson for the fourth wicket, whilst Davies moved to 47 before he was bowled by a straight Ellis yorker to leave Middlesex 123-5.
Forming a platform alongside Davies, John Simpson then released his handbrake and began to attack the death bowlers; hitting Wheal for two sixes on his way to 41 off twenty six balls before falling in the final three balls as the bowler finished with 3-46 in his four overs. Accompanied by unbroken cameos from batsmen Luke Hollman (11*) and Chris Green (8*). Middlesex finished with a good score of 163-6 from their allocated twenty overs with thirty-two runs added in the final two overs of batting with a larger than normal outfield.
In reply to a competitive score Hampshire started slowly following tight away bowling before McDermott threatened to explode in style, hitting 14 runs from just three balls in the 3rd over as he worked alongside Aneurin Donald to find gaps within the stretched Middlesex fielding side. But from 41-0 the hosts fell to 58-4 in just a few overs as McDermott was caught off Blake Cullen as he hoisted his misjudged shot high into the air, before Donald holed out just four balls later off Green to make it 43-2 midway through the sixth over.
A slow trickle of runs between James Vince and Joe Weatherley was ended by Hollman’s spin in the eighth over as the latter flicked into the grateful hands of Holden for nine off ten balls. The bowler sealed a double wicket over as he trapped Liam Dawson leg-before to make it 58-4 after the lightning start; with Hundred star Ross Whitely joining his captain at the crease as natural light faded with extra dew helping the bowling side; the pair adding another seven runs as the required rate quickly reached 10 per over by the halfway mark.
With pressure building Whitely turned the screw and made an immediate impact alongside sixteen runs from Vince; hitting two fours and two sixes to reach 27 off 16 balls as Hampshire passed the one hundred mark with a flurry as the batting pair added over forty mid-innings runs in just under four overs. But two short of a half-century partnership Whitely tried one attack too many and was caught inside the boundary on the offside to swing the game back into Middlesex’s favour with six overs left to bat on a pitch offering positives for both.
Vince hit two successive fours in the fifteen over and new batsman James Fuller smashed a flat six into the crowd, but the home side were mostly dealing with singles and twos against quick Middlesex fielding on a large outfield. With the hosts needing boundaries and frustration building with three overs left, Fuller looped a shot into the air and was caught easily by Hollman from England bowler Toby Roland-Jones’ short delivery. This made the score 140-6 with Hampshire needing twenty-two runs from just 14 balls to seal the victory.
Ellis and Vince trading singles to end the eighteenth over before the captain hit a four over deep cover to restore Hampshire hopes. But after another trading of quick singles and with the captain hoping to reach fifty, he was removed for 47 with seven balls to go as a poor shot was gathered by a mid-on fielder to silence the home fans. Needing fifteen for Hampshire to win off six balls, Roland-Jones limited the batsman to three runs throughout the entirety of the final over; taking the bonus wicket of Chris Wood (1) with the last ball to confirm a 10 run win as the hosts finished on 153-8 from their allocated twenty over innings of batting.
Victory for Middlesex means that they have won two out of two games so far, winning against Gloucestershire on Thursday; with their third match being a home clash versus Glamorgan on Sunday. In contrast Hampshire will have to wait until Monday when they host Somerset at the Ageas Bowl with a 7pm start time, before travelling to Essex for their next group encounter. Jubilee weekend will see the Hawks travel to Surrey on Thursday before hosting Sussex next Saturday afternoon as they look to bounce back.
PICTURED BY ALEX DAVISON: Vince attempts big shot but is unable to lead team to opening win of Blast campaign as Hampshire lose narrowly at home to Middlesex on Friday night in topsy-turfy group match.