Bopara limits Hants but host on top
Essex 55 for 2 trail Hampshire 286 (Wheater 42, Bopara 3-14) by 231 runs
Ravi Bopara slipped through the Hampshire middle order to reduce the hosts to 286 but Essex finished the opening day on the back foot after being reduced to 55 for 2.
The visitors lost opener Tom Westley and Ravi Bopara in the first 14 deliveries of their innings and at stumps trailed the joint Division Two leaders by 231 runs.
Essex will reflect on a day of missed opportunity, having put Hampshire into bat in overcast conditions and been in the box seat at the end of the second session. But Hampshire's last four wickets, aided by a significant 41 extras, added 78 runs, to post a competitive total.
Essex faced an hour's batting at the end of the final session and were quickly 2 for 2. With his third delivery, South Africa Test paceman Kyle Abbott bowled Westley, offering no shot. One run and 11 balls later, Bopara gloved a catch to Michael Bates off the left-arm swing of James Tomlinson to leave Essex in trouble.
James Foster and Nick Browne successfully navigated the remainder of the session to see Essex through to the end without further loss.
It was a day of fluctuating fortunes for Essex as they allowed a promising situation to slip from their grasp. Hampshire, meanwhile, deserved credit for a lower-order fight-back which left them in the stronger position at stumps.
Essex tasted success in the second over of the Hampshire innings, skipper Jimmy Adams being caught behind off the inconsistent Reece Topley to give Foster the first of five victims.
Michael Carberry and Will Smith added 72 before the out-of-favour England left-hand opener was caught behind off the bowling of Tymal Mills, who endured erratic bowling performance, conceding 70 runs off his 12 overs.
Hampshire, 82 for 2 at lunch, were forced to work hard for their runs - Jesse Ryder bowling an economical spell - and when Smith became Topley's second victim at 107 for 3, Foster's decision to put Hampshire into bat appeared vindicated.
James Vince, with a neat 41, and Adam Wheater, who made a pleasing 42 against his former county which included seven boundaries, took the Hampshire total past the 200-mark. But when Bopara made an arguably overdue appearance into the Essex attack - it took Foster until the 49th over to hand him the ball - he removed both batsmen to reduce Hampshire to 205 for 5 and, by tea, with Bates also departed, 208 for 6.
Essex ought to have pressed home their advantage but instead, Hampshire - aided by a host of extras, which contributed the second highest score - wrested the initiative from the visitors' grasp. Sean Ervine, Michael Coles and Kyle Abbott all made important contributions as Hampshire's lower order added those 78 runs to raise the total to 286. Bopara finished with a tidy three for 14 off his nine overs, four of which were maidens.
``We would have taken 286 at the start of the day," Hampshire coach Dale Benkenstein said. "The first session was really tough. We could have been four down and I thought we did well to only be two down,'' he said.
``250 was a par total on that pitch. It was a tough wicket, but they gave us an opportunity to get extra runs.''
Paul Grayson, Essex coach, added: ``In the first session, we passed the outside of the bat 37 times. We could have had a few more wickets by lunchtime, but we didn't bowl well during the second session and conceded far too many extras.
``After losing those two early wickets, James Foster and Nick Browne batted well and hopefully one of them will go on to make a big score tomorrow.''