By Connor Steel
HAMPSHIRE HAWKS completed a West Country away double and solidified their place in the Vitality Blast quarter-final positions going into the final two South Group games, beating Gloucestershire by nine runs in a highly watchable clash on Friday evening. Not for the first time in the competition and in a similar vein to their Somerset victory twenty-four hours earlier; it was ultimately death bowling that made the difference in Bristol, with the away bowlers restricting the scoring and taking regular wickets to help seal the tight victory.
Fresh from hitting a century versus Somerset, James Vince set the tone in the early overs after the Hawks were asked to bat first; hitting three fours in quick succession before he was dismissed for 15 in the third over edging behind off Mohammed Amir’s delivery. The bowler then struck again at the end of the powerplay following a partnership between Ben McDermott and Tom Prest (12) as the youngster was caught behind, meaning that Hampshire were on 50-2 at the end of the 6th over with both top-scorers from Taunton out.
But sadly for Gloucestershire, McDermott was in fine throttle as he accelerated the run-rate with a six and four off two David Payne deliveries in the over; also hitting ten runs the following over as he brought up his half century in the middle parts of the innings. He was brilliantly backed by quick running by Joe Weatherley (17) before his partner was dismissed after a 50-run partnership, before himself being bowled by Payne for 50 off thirty-eight deliveries. This left the Hawks on 103-4 in the thirteenth over with Ross Whitely and Toby Albert at the crease with seven overs to play in their quest for a competitive total at Seat Unique Stadium.
The pair combined to add another 24 runs including two fours and a maximum before being dismissed in quick succession in the sixteenth; Ryan Higgins trapping Whiteley (18) leg before and then seeing Albert (7) just three balls later. But James Fuller (22) and Liam Dawson were now at the crease in the final stretch; combining six fours with brilliant running to hit 42 runs off three and a half overs. And even though Fuller was dismissed in the last over, Dawson (20) added another eight runs in the final balls as Hampshire finished 178-7 from their allocated twenty overs; a competitive score as dark-looking clouds began to roll into Bristol.
Set 179 to win Gloucestershire were immediately in trouble as they lost their first wicket in the opening two balls as Chris Wood drew a mid-on catch to dismiss Miles Hammond for a duck. His fellow opener Chris Dent however combined with Ian Cockbain to ensure they were ahead of the run-rate, with the pair adding seven boundaries across four overs in the powerplay; before the graft of Fuller paid off. The bowler first bowled Dent (24) and quickly followed this with a catch off his bowling 3 balls later, meaning that the home side ended the sixth over 48-3, Brad Wheal removing Glenn Phillips (5) the following ball to make it 48-4.
Gloucestershire suddenly found themselves behind the DLS rate with rain now in the air, but they were unable to really bounce back against tight bowling led by Fuller; which led to their fifth wicket as Higgins was bowled by an inside edge from Dawson playing a frustrated shot. New batsman Bracey was then dropped on eleven as he combined with Jack Taylor, the pair building slowly with the scores on 78-5 at the half way point before accelerating with a series of great boundaries as they passed the hundred mark and fifty partnership.
One six arrived for both batsman just before drinks as the pair reached 128-5 with four overs left, a sixth wicket following as Bracey (40) attempted to accelerate and played a drifting shot that was caught in the field at long-off. Another couple of dot balls then followed before Benny Howell launched an absolute onslaught on Wood and Ellis with the run-rate reaching fourteen an over, hitting 34 runs from thirteen to give them a chance. This included three fours and two maximums, but a couple of dot balls and a dismissal for Taylor (37) from the second-to-last delivery; meaning that Gloucestershire ultimately ended their innings on 169-7.
The nine run victory seals another two points for the Hawks and has strengthened their hopes of a potential quarter-final place come next weekend, sitting fourth with an improved net-run rate. But despite the good run they face two tough games in the Blast, including the reverse fixture versus Gloucestershire at the Ageas Bowl on Friday night (July 1). Sussex Sharks away then await the Hawks next Sunday (July 3), with a 4-day County Championship match versus Essex in-between starting on June 26 in Chelmsford (tomorrow AM).
PICTURED BY HAMPSHIRE CRICKET: Away bowlers celebrate taking wicket in a tight Bristol victory.