Hampshire hold off Howell onslaught
Hampshire 180 for 6 (Adams 69*) beat Gloucestershire 178 for 8 (Howell 50, Smith 3-26) by two runs
Jimmy Adams may have slipped a notch or two down the list of likely T20 match-winners, such is the strength, and depth, of Hampshire's batting department these days. And not too many would nominate Will Smith's darting off-breaks as a key weapon. Between them, though, these two kept one of this competition's top-rated teams on track for quarter-final qualification.
But, boy, was it tight in the end. Or, rather, old boy, wasn't it close. Benny Howell, who left Hampshire in 2011 in search of better opportunities, went agonisingly close to upsetting his former employers.
Gloucestershire, having been given a wonderful start by Alex Gidman and Michael Klinger, slipped away horribly in mid-innings once Smith had removed both openers in the space of three deliveries. And they seemed to have no chance at all - until Howell started swinging with stunning effect.
From nowhere, almost, the visitors wanted 28 runs off 12 balls - and they might have made it, too, but for a disciplined penultimate over from Chris Wood followed by Howell's last gasp run-out when seven were needed from two deliveries.
Gloucestershire's would-be hero trudged off with 50, from just 22 balls, to his name, and the game was finally up for the underdogs. But the roar that greeted Hampshire's victory had more than a tinge of relief about it.
It was all a bit of a lesson for the hosts, really. With so much batting firepower at their disposal they really should have made 200 after reaching 121 for 3 from 12 overs. But both James Vince and Glenn Maxwell, having looked a million dollars apiece while moving into the 30s, had gone by then - and it was left to Adams to make sure a defendable if not impregnable total was reached on a good pitch.
Although Adams continues to captain the side in longer forms of the game, he gave up the T20 leadership a couple of years ago. He remains a guiding light, however, and without ever appearing to be rushed he scored his unbeaten 69 at a good lick (off 46 balls) while lifting a couple of sixes on top of five fours.
Hampshire probably realised they had failed to slam the door in Gloucestershire's face. But if they were in any doubt then the way Gidman and Klinger raced to 61 would have shattered any illusions.
Usually, when the faster bowlers have been found waning it is left-arm spinner Danny Briggs who does the business. This time, though, the new father - his first son, Stanley, was born last weekend - was reasonably tight without being particularly penetrative. Enter Smith.
The former Durham player has been a handy bowler for his new county so far this campaign. Tonight he really came up trumps, removing both batsmen in quick succession and later returning to send back Chris Dent. That gave Smith competition best figures of 3 for 26 - and a place on Hampshire's centre stage alongside Adams.
David Lloyd is a former chief cricket correspondent of PA and the Evening Standard