Wheater happy on homecoming
Essex 70 for 1 trail Hampshire 246 (Wheater 107, Rimmington 65, Mahmood 3-54) by 176 runs
Such is Hampshire's unwavering commitment to nurturing home-grown players, the recruitment of Adam Wheater, two years ago, from Essex caused a couple of eyebrows to be raised among the members. Their grievances were, at the time, understandable but they are a club with a continuous eye on the future and much like the perpetual development of their Ageas Bowl ground, the separate components of their side are being put in place.
Wheater has blossomed into an intrinsic part of their plans and on the day in which Hampshire underlined their forward-thinking approach by rewarding him with a new contract, the wicketkeeper-batsman proved his immediate worth with a peerless century that could, when all is said and done, be a defining moment in their push for promotion.
By his own frank admission, there was a weighty burden on his shoulders as an "outsider" to justify a berth in the side - he usurped local lad Michael Bates - but after an innings in which he rescued the visitors from the prospect of irreparable submersion at 97 for 7, it was his former employers left sitting uneasy with a nagging feeling of self-reproach.
As Wheater punched Saj Mahmood down the ground with a typically nonchalant demeanour, one local murmured "that's our lad, isn't it", knowing too right what the answer was. Indeed, this was a homecoming of sorts for the 24-year-old who is a product of the Essex youth system; he still plays club cricket for Woodford Wells not far from Chelmsford.
Yet, the manner in which he left Essex left a sour taste in the mouth. There was ambiguity over the reasons for such an abrupt departure but having been told he was third in the wicketkeeping pecking order, Wheater paid his own way out in order to further his career - on this evidence he made the right decision.
But Essex may just be regretting not putting up more of a fight to keep hold of him. It is somewhat ironic that Ben Foakes, the England Under-19 wicketkeeper who Wheater was told was ahead of him in the wicketkeeping stakes, finds himself scrapping for form in the second XI after a barren run with the bat.
But this was about Wheater. Diminutive in stature, he stood tall and fronted up to a patched-up Essex attack that found the early-morning conditions at Castle Park bountiful. Jimmy Adams' decision to bat first on a wicket that had been covered for the best part of two days was questionable at the time and became increasingly perplexing as the carnage unfolded.
Essex's lengthy injury list has been well documented but the fact that Saj Mahmood was selected for the first time since September 2013 and James Foster used eight bowlers during a quite bizarre morning session was masked by Hampshire's disintegration.
On the same pitch that yielded an abundance of runs during Saturday's T20 game, Hampshire made it look like a Colchester minefield. The top-order were all caught behind as they paid for their hesitancy against the moving ball as Jesse Ryder and Graham Napier both helped themselves to two wickets. Michael Carberry - watched by his batting mentor Graham Gooch - scratched around for 32 deliveries without scoring before prodding at one from Napier.
But Wheater held fort and counterpunched beautifully. After steading a rapidly sinking ship with Sean Ervine before lunch, he combined with debutant Nathan Rimmington to put on 115 for the eighth wicket with the Australian playing more than the role of subordinate with an impressive unbeaten fifty of his own.
Wheater punished Essex's profligacy as a hint of complacency crept into their endeavours. He was particularly strong on the back foot, rocking back and slapping anything short through midwicket or square leg; the majority of his twelve boundaries were on the leg side but as he grew in confidence, his whole array of shots were unveiled.
It was a method that proved fruitful on a pitch that, as the day wore on, became a haven for batting in glorious sunshine. Tom Westley and Ravi Bopara reaffirmed just that as they negotiated a tricky last session to ensure Essex, despite Wheater's exploits, hold the cards in this rain-reduced encounter. Regardless of the result, it may just be Wheater and Hampshire with the last laugh.