Abbott, Vince show Hampshire class
Hampshire 286 and 264 for 2 (Vince 154*, Smith 78*) lead Essex 112 (Abbott 5-44, Tomlinson 3-25) by 429 runs
Last week, after securing a draw against Worcestershire by batting out the final day against a rampant Saeed Ajmal, Hampshire captain Jimmy Adams felt that it was those moments - "with your backs against the wall" - that teaches you the most about your team. Today, as Hampshire built on a superb bowling display with a brutal last two sessions with the bat to lead Essex by 429 by the end of day, we learned just how talented and ruthless they can be.
In Kyle Abbott and James Vince, they boast two exceptional players of international class. They were the difference between the two sides as one produced an opening blitz and the other saw out the day on an equally explosive unbeaten 154.
"If you told us this morning we'd be batting again by lunch, we would have laughed," Abbott said. Fresh and changed into his Hampshire tracksuit, his smile was wide and brow far less furrowed having registered a season's best return of 5 for 44 earlier in the day.
Essex were skittled out inside 29 overs of the first session thanks to a brilliant opening spell from Abbott. His first stint, six overs long, saw him take 3 for 15, before returning to comprehensively bowl Reece Topley to secure his five-for.
His morning three came in just seven balls, without a run conceded, and accounted for a valuable middle order of James Foster, Jesse Ryder and Ben Foakes. Hampshire's decision to rest Abbott for last weeks' match proved a masterstroke. Not only did his replacement Glenn Maxwell play his part in saving the game at New Road with a second innings 85, but Abbott was also afforded some much needed down-time and a couple of rounds of golf.
"It was more on the mental side of things and the travelling," Abbott revealed. "My body is used to bowling 20 overs a day - that's my job - and I'm used to it after six years. But the mental break from the game and not having to sit on a bus for four hours or into another hotel room is quite nice. I feel like I've come back fresh."
It would easy to put Essex's calamitous collapse down to basic batting error. In truth, of the four batsmen that were dismissed today, it was only the dismissal of Foster that you felt could have been avoided.
With Abbott and James Tomlinson offering little room for expansion, Foster's eyed lit up at a shorter, wider ball and thrashed his hands through the ball. Perhaps he could have kept it down, but it required a very good catch from Matt Coles, diving to his left at backward point, to take the catch.
For the most part, Abbott and Coles deserve credit for finding chinks in the armour of talented batsmen, some with a wealth of international cricket behind them. Indeed, any one of Abbott's three could have elevated the visitors to an acceptable score, much closer than the 165-run deficit they took into the second innings.
For a moment, it looked like Essex were clawing their way back into it, when both Hampshire openers fell to loose shots - Michael Carberry finding midwicket and Adams playing onto his own stumps. But in came Vince and away went faint hope.
Three figures came up in just 99 balls, featuring thumping shots square of the wicket, the odd nicely timed drive, smart guides to third man and pushes into exposed gaps in the field as his assault went on. It took him just 119 balls to match Essex's entire first effort. He was ably supported by Will Smith, whose half-century centered mostly on ticking over and giving his partner the strike.
The scorecard has this as a typical Vince knock; one littered with boundaries, good running and excellent placement. It might have been very different.
Having taken 17 balls to get off the mark, Vince, on 9 off 20 at the time, was subject to a vociferous appeal from Reece Topley. The left-armer, getting good swing into the right-hander, went up with those behind the bat, only to be turned down by the standing umpire. His reaction - left-hooking the air in front of him, before his arms slumped to his sides - spoke volumes of Essex's toil. They are 429 runs behind.