Warwickshire collapse to painful defeat
Hampshire 141 and 416 beat Warwickshire 250 and 98 by 209 runs
It was with characteristic understatement that Ashley Giles summed up his Warwickshire side's performance with the phrase: "a bad day at the office". In truth, this may well prove to be the defining moment of his side's season.
A second innings batting performance that saw five of the top six dismissed for ducks only exasperated a wasteful display that saw Warwickshire squander several opportunities to clinch a game that had been theirs for the taking. Whether it was failing to establish a crushing first-innings lead, allowing Hampshire off the hook of being, in effect, three for three in their second innings, or collapsing in their second innings, Warwickshire may well come to rue this display for years to come.
Might this be the day that ended Warwickshire's Championship challenge? They certainly haven't played like prospective champions over the last couple of days, though it is worth noting that Nottinghamshire were dismissed for just 59 by Yorkshire towards the end of last season. They still won the title. As it is, Warwickshire are now 25 points behind Lancashire, but with a game in hand. That eight-point pitch penalty is also looking more important as the season progresses.
There is, however, a fragility about Warwickshire's top-order batting that was alarming. It's only the second time Warwickshire have been dismissed for under a 100 in the Championship this century, but it is worth noting that the previous occasion was also this season.
On the first instance - against Lancashire at Edgbaston - the batsmen were almost blameless on a pitch that was turning square. This time they were tentative to the point of being pathetic.
Perhaps that's harsh. Perhaps it does little to reflect Hampshire's excellent fight-back in this game. Perhaps it fails to credit the James Vince's eye-catching century and James Tomlinson and Chris Wood's fine new ball bowling. Certainly Hampshire played some skilful, courageous cricket over the second half of this game.
The truth is, however, that Warwickshire made life far too easy for them. Whether it was their loose second-innings bowling, their timid second-innings capitulation or their careless first-innings batting, Warwickshire must reflect that they gave this game away.
The turning point of this match did not come on the third day. It came on day two. It came when the likes of Jim Troughton and Tim Ambrose surrendered their wickets with the loosest of drives that were utterly inappropriate to the circumstances. It came when Rikki Clarke guided a ball to slip and Chris Woakes ran himself out. It came, largely, due to complacency. Warwickshire had the opportunity to finish off Hampshire; instead they offered them a series of lifelines.
This is also a result that just about sustains Hampshire's hopes of pulling off their 'great escape.' Though they remain bottom of the Division One table - adrift by 21 points - they have now won two in a row and have a game in hand on Yorkshire. Results elsewhere - at Scarborough and Blackpool - also did them a few favours, though their stand-in captain, Jimmy Adams admits that next week's game against Worcestershire remains a "must win" encounter.
In Vince they certainly have a talented young batsman. While the 20-year-old's record is infuriatingly mediocre - this was his first score over 20 in eight Championship innings - he clearly has tremendous talent. His driving off the front foot is wonderful - as good as anyone in the county game - while he's also very good off his legs. The comparisons with Michael Vaughan are obvious and fair.
Vince added 72 for the fifth-wicket with the night-watchman Tomlinson, before the killer blow was administered in an 119-run stand for the sixth-wicket with Sean Ervine. While Vince, in particular, feasted on some poor bowling - Woakes opened with two leg-stump half-volleys and showed more than a few signs of weariness - both batsmen increasingly took the fight to a tired attack. Wood, bludgeoning 32 (with six fours and a six) rubbed salt into the wound with a late cameo that broke the spirit of the hosts. Warwickshire's final target of 308 was always likely to be too much for them.
Spare a thought for Chris Woakes, however. Has anyone ever taken ten-wickets in a match and top scored in both innings only to finish on the losing side before? With Clarke limping out of the attack with a hamstring strain, Woakes' burden was increased. He claimed the third 10-wicket match haul (10 for 123) of his career here as well as scoring 87 runs. Warwickshire simply ask for too much of him. On this occasion, it showed.
His top-order batting colleagues have no such excuses. Some of them have struggled all season and here surrendered their wickets with remarkable ease. Ian Westwood cut a long-hop to point, William Porterfield was drawn into prodding at the very next ball and edged to the keeper, while Jim Troughton suffered his fourth duck of the Championship season when his weak prod resulted in an edge to the keeper. Troughton's run of form, with just three half-centuries since August 2009, is simply not sustainable for a specialist batsman.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul's deeply unimpressive debut (he loitered around in the field with his hands in his pockets like a truculent teenager and was a noticeable absentee from Warwickshire's on-field huddle) ended when he reached for a wide one and, inevitably, edged to slip, before Rikki Clarke pulled a short ball directly to the fielder at deep square leg. For a team on 45 for 6, it was a very odd shot.
There were some moments of excellence from Hampshire, too. Ambrose received a peach of a delivery from Tomlinson that took his edge, while Michael Bates, who has endured a miserable game with the bat, showed why he's so highly rated as a keeper by pulling off a superb leg-side stumping. Standing up to Tomlinson's medium-pace, Bates pounced when Varun Chopra dragged his back foot out of his ground. Woakes and the tail at least averted record-breaking awfulness, but could no noting to prevent Hampshire completing victory by 209 runs.
There are, as ever, mitigating factors for Warwickshire. Most pertinently, Hampshire's opening bowlers utilised the new ball very well and the pitch had worn enough to offer some assistance. But there was nothing untoward in either the bowling or the conditions. The batsmen simply failed.
Nor will life become easier. Warwickshire are without William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Chris Woakes on international duty for next week's match against Yorkshire. Rikki Clarke is also an injury doubt.
Looking further ahead, however, it seems more likely by the moment that Gary Keedy will be a Warwickshire player next season. Giles described Keedy as "top of his wish list" for next year, while it seems that Lancashire may decide the time has come to fully back their very impressive younger spinners.
In the shorter-term, their top order simply have to stop making excuses and start making runs. It's the only currency by which batsmen, ultimately, can be judged.