By Connor Steel
HAMPSHIRE HAWKS confirmed their quarter final spot in the Twenty-20 Vitality Blast on Friday night as they completed a group double over Gloucestershire at the Ageas Bowl; winning by fourteen runs in a low scoring encounter on a difficult surface. And not for the first time it was James Fuller who was the hero for the hosts as he smashed 45 runs to drag them to a competitive score, before accurate bowling from Liam Dawson and Nathan Ellis helped seal another narrow but crucial victory in front of a jubilant home crowd.
But it didn’t start well for the hosts after choosing to bat first on a sluggish and slow outfield; Gloucestershire proving difficult to attack due to accurate deliveries from the opening bowlers as they conceded just 24 runs from the powerplay. Hampshire furthermore lost two wickets as Ben McDermott (4) was caught at slip from Mohammed Amir and James Vince was soon dismissed by Glenn Phillips; but they recovered with a solid but slow paced 29-run partnership between Tom Prest and Joe Weatherley including one long maximum.
Gloucestershire took their third wicket as they approached the half-way point, Benny Howell’s rising delivery leading to Prest’s dismissal by a substitute fielder to leave the Hawks on 50-3. The bowler also took the vital wicket of Ross Whiteley (12) after another 26 run partnership to finish on 2-29 from his four allocated overs; Tom Smith further trapping Weatherley LBW for 32 and removing Liam Dawson for a single five balls later to leave Hampshire struggling on 94-6 with just three overs left to bat as the visitors looked in arguable control.
Backed up by his partner Ellis (6*) the death overs allowed Fuller to explode, the all-rounder swinging Ryan Higgins for successive maximums over the long range boundary despite the best efforts of the fielders. The nineteenth over saw more of the same after running between the batsmen as Fuller smashed David Payne for two more sixes down the ground and followed this up with a cover drive for four . And although Fuller was run out for forty-five to end the innings, these came off just 26 balls and allowed Hampshire to reach 140-7.
The visitors started well as they hit two boundaries in the opening nine balls before losing their first wicket of Iain Cockbain; Prest running him out for four with a superb throw into the stumps. And after Chris Dent had a maximum whilst being dropped by Prest, the bowler soon got his man as the opener top-edged to Whiteley leaving the visitors on 40-2. And this became 51-3 at the end of the powerplay as Brad Wheal forced Miles Hammond into a skied shot caught by McDermott; the visitors ahead of the run-rate but behind in wickets.
The introduction of Dawson brought Gloucestershire’s momentum to a halt within the space of just two overs in which he conceded five runs; furthermore adding the wicket of Philips caught at slip to make the score 66-4. Mason Crane forced Jack Taylor into a frustrated shot that edged through to McDermott, whilst Dawson added his second to leave Gloucestershire on 77-6 midway through the twelve over; James Bracey coming to the crease and hitting two boundaries as he helped his team pass the hundred mark eighteen balls later.
Needing to win the game to stay in the Blast, Gloucestershire began to accelerate and this proved to be their downfall; Howell swiping a harmless-looking ball to deep square leg to become the seventh wicket on 102-7. This wicket immediately buoyed the home side as they restricted the away batsmen to just 15 runs over three overs, a burden that Bracey (38) failed to carry as he was caught splicing to third slip. And with a target of 17 to win from the final over, Smith was run out and Ellis sealed the 15 run victory by bowling Payne.
Hampshire join five other teams to already seal their quarter final place with just one round of fixtures left to decide the final two spots; which will take place throughout Sunday afternoon. But although their match versus the Sussex Sharks is a dead rubber, the Hawks will hope to maintain a fine run of eight wins in nine matches going into the last eight ties; which will take place between July 6 and 9 with the fixtures yet to be confirmed. Semi-finals ties are due to be played on July 16 at Edgbaston with the finale on the same night.
PICTURED BY HAMPSHIRE CRICKET: Dawson celebrates wicket of Glenn Phillips as Hawks reach last 8.