Hants prosper in home conditions
Hampshire 165 for 4 trail Essex 180 (Pettini 58, Balcombe 4-57) by 15 runs
In the 1970s and 1980s, Ron Allsopp, the skilled head groundsman at Trent Bridge, would leave a thick coating of grass on the pitches he cut, specifically for Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice to exploit. This worked to good effect, not least through continually winning the toss. That same good fortune is being enjoyed now by Jimmy Adams and Hampshire's seamers, who, with considerable assistance from their slip fielders, dismissed Essex for 180.
This is not to say that the pitches cut by Nigel Gray here are anything like as difficult to bat on as was the case by the Trent in the past. The bounce is even and there is good carry. Yet it is fair to say that run-making was rather more straightforward when the one day international was staged here a week ago than it was now. Every Essex batsman fell through a catch in the slips or behind the wicket, with the exception of one tail-ender who was bowled. There was considerable movement.
Gray is no less skilled than Alsopp and his pitches play better the longer the match continues. The drawback in all this is not so much that the side winning the toss is more likely to win the match, but that there is little scope for spin. Danny Briggs, unavailable because he is with England's one-day party, would probably not have been picked, anyway. That has been the situation for most of the season.
Essex, facing an attack in which David Griffiths was preferred to Kabir Ali and Chris Wood, were five wickets down by lunch. The slip catching was extremely sharp. As Neil McKenzie has returned to South Africa, no longer required now that Michael Carberry is fit, Adams himself has gone to first slip. He accounted for Tom Westley and Ryan ten Doeschate; Liam Dawson is perhaps the best second slip in the country, and James Vince is pretty competent alongside him. They also took two catches each. Add Sean Ervine in the gully and this is a fine cordon.
Some of the shot selection was unnecessary. Rather like late cutting before May is out, cover driving before lunch made for extravagance. Jaik Mickleburgh and Owais Shah both were out in that way, to David Balcombe, who finished with four wickets, and James Tomlinson respectively. Adam Wheater was neatly held by Michael Bates behind the wicket.
Mark Pettini was the sole batsman to flourish, reaching 58 with eight fours before he, too, fell to a slip catch. Tom Craddock played on to Ervine after lunch and Maurice Chambers soon edged to Bates. For Griffiths, playing his first Championship match since May, there were three wickets. The question now was whether Hampshire, who have to win this match to have a chance of promotion, could bat any better against a similarly pace-dominated attack.
To a fair extent they did. Adams swung at a short ball from Chambers and sent up a catch to square leg, but Carberry, so powerful in his hitting in the CB40 semi-final at Hove last weekend, made 42 with eight fours and Bilal Shafayat, who is far from in form, looked just about in touch towards the end of the day.