Carberry ton brings hard-fought draw
Hampshire 219 (Smith 67, Ajmal 7-63) and 321 for 5 dec. (Carberry 125, Maxwell 85) drew with Worcestershire 402 for 9 dec. (Cox 104)
It was a shame that the only day of this encounter unblemished by rain merely saw the game home to a draw but for Michael Carberry there was much to fight for. On the eve of England's first Test since the climax of an Ashes whitewash that he was part of, he scored a fine, second hundred of the season, to steer his side to safety.
Those in the stands expecting a classic were disappointed - the result leaves both sides level on points at the top of the table, with Worcestershire in first position on head-to-head encounters - even if they were treated to a dogged performance from the visitors that earned the applause offered to Hampshire at stumps. For starters, there was no guarantee that Hampshire would accrue a lead, let alone as quickly as they did.
Carberry's first innings had ended after one ball when he cleanly found leg slip at the end of day two, smashing a water bottle onto the roof of a building next to the Hampshire end of the balcony. Yesterday evening - with two leg slips for company - he rushed a single of his second ball to get off a pair, before settling down and passing 11,000 career runs in first-class cricket before stumps. Today, he was a calming influence, displaying the sort of patience and sharp bat speed that has earned him many plaudits.
He was candid at the close; focused very much on Hampshire to "keep doing what I'm doing". His skipper Jimmy Adams was effusive in his praise of a special innings and scrappy performance today. "We haven't had to deal with having our backs against the wall," Adams said. "it's a real test of character. Everyone who batted today really took that on. We're delighted, in a weird way."
Worcestershire's task was made a tad simpler before play when Danny Briggs, who was in as nightwatchman, returned home for the birth of his first child. But Carberry was smart against Saeed Ajmal, to ensure there was no repeat of his brilliance; eight wickets on day three but not a penny on day four, going for nearly four-an-over in 28 overs - even the greats have their off days.
But Caberry deserves credit for sticking to a gameplan of playing everything from out in front of him, except the odd cut that he thumped behind point. He even began driving Ajmal, causing the offspinner to shy away from giving him anything too wide - it took him 19 overs on the final day before he beat Carberry's outside edge.
On 86 at the time, Carberry pushed back after the "Oooo" from the stands died down, before nodding down the wicket and setting up again. The next over, he charged Shaaiq Choudry and lofted him over his head for six to move into the nineties. Two overs later, he had his hundred, which he politely acknowledged, before getting back to work.
At the other end, Glenn Maxwell had lightened Carberry's load with some clean hits and just as many skews to the boundary. It was his first assault of Ajmal, in which Maxwell took 24 runs off the first 12 balls he faced off him, that ended Ajmal's morning stint. The hundred partnership took just 22.1 overs and, as Maxwell brought out his reverse-sweeps to manoeuvre a tired field, slowly realising that a win was being taken away from them.
That fourth wicket stand was eventually ended at 149, Charlie Morris picking up his third wicket of the day when Maxwell was trapped on the crease to a ball that he expected would bounce higher. By then, a lead of 54 had been established.
Perhaps if Maxwell remained there could have been a frenetic late afternoon dash allowing Hampshire to set up an audacious chase. Adams couldn't help but laugh at the idea, revealing that Sean Ervine, padded up, had to stop watching as Maxwell tested his nerve with contorted wrists in order to fashion boundaries when only stern-fisted jabs were needed. They hope he will be available for more Championship cricket. He certainly gave the game a welcome edge.