Hampshire follow on after Ajmal seven
Hampshire 219 (Smith 67, Ajmal 7-63) and 31 for 1 trail Worcestershire 402 for 9 dec by 152 runs
With the interruptions over the last three days, that a positive result remains possible speaks of something special. Worcestershire lead by 152 runs, needing nine Hampshire wickets to secure an innings victory over their Division Two rivals. Saeed Ajmal, with eight wickets in the day, including a first-innings seven-for, was that something special.
Ajmal's last Championship performance at New Road was better - a personal best of 7 for 19 in the second innings against Essex. The eight he has taken so far in this match took him past 50 Championship wickets for Worcestershire in nine matches, three of which came in the 2011 season.
However, it would not be too bold a claim to say Ajmal did not bowl that well here. Hampshire's top five had not only negotiated his smart changes in length and pace, but had also given him a bit back: punishing him for over or under-pitching. James Vince and Glenn Maxwell in particular had come out after lunch in the mood for runs, taking 29 off Ajmal's first four overs of the middle session. Normal service resumed in the fifth, with a double-wicket maiden accounting for Maxwell and Sean Ervine.
There was an inevitability to it all, especially with the relative ease at which Jimmy Adams and Will Smith played Jack Shantry, Charles Morris and Joe Leach. The pitch did not offer much assistance, with little movement through the air and even less off what looked a tired surface.
No risks were taken but Smith moved along his score with a series of well-timed and placed boundaries. Adams took more time to get going, but he responded with a handful of his own, as the duo reached their century partnership in the 26th over of the day.
Adams was the first to fall, attempting to sweep the sixth ball he had faced off Ajmal, when the straight bat approach was doing fine. Then, on the stroke of lunch, Smith, having survived a sharp chance at bat-pad, allowed a quicker, straighter delivery to rush on to his stumps, failing to swat the ball away with a horizontal bat.
After lunch, Vince and Maxwell looked to eat up the deficit with some strokes that tested the acoustics of New Road; the ball making a satisfying donk off both bats as they put on 48 in nine overs. The demise of Maxwell - Ajmal's 50th Championship scalp for Worcestershire - and then Ervine, attempting a paddle sweep and bowled through the gate respectively, stemmed the run flow.
It was the demise of Vince that will have rankled with the visitors most. Offered a short ball by Leach, he found the hands of Matt Pardoe at deep midwicket, who just had to set himself to take the catch. While it would be easy to say Vince could have done without playing the shot, in truth, he should probably have helped it over the rope for six.
His was the first of the last five wickets to fall for only 29 runs in 58 balls. Matt Coles looked the unluckiest of the lot, given out lbw despite putting in a decent stride.
The end of Hampshire's first innings led into tea, at which points the rains came and meant they faced 14 overs in their follow-on innings. Still, Ajmal had enough time to remove Adams for a second time, in similar fashion to his first dismissal. The forecast for Wednesday is good and one imagines Ajmal will be working away at one end throughout.