Edwards fights for Hampshire's losing cause
Hampshire 0 for 1 trail Nottinghamshire 340 (Wessels 104, Edwards 6-88) by 340 runs
Two West Indian pace bowlers are in situ for the final throes of the Championship. Like Fidel Edwards, cutting a dash for Hampshire at Trent Bridge, Shannon Gabriel was in the wickets at Worcester. But while Worcestershire are already down, and Gabriel's two-match contract no longer has much point, Edwards clings to the belief, as he has all season, that he can keep Hampshire in the First Division.
It must be like clinging to Norway's Storseisundet Bridge, known by the locals as the drunk bridge, for its tendency to sway in strong winds. For Hampshire, the wind began at force 7, and rose to force 8 once Riki Wessels registered his second Championship century of the season, a sweetly-timed affair.
Edwards took 6 for 88, his season's best figures as Nottinghamshire fell late in the day for 340. He has surely never bowled more intelligently in England than this season. At 33, he has done himself proud: always watchable, and occasionally destructive. Over at Worcester, Gabriel bowls with serious intent; Edwards assembles passion from the air itself. Two very different Caribbean quicks, both good for the game. County cricket desperately needs characters, standards, stories. It will not survive in the public consciousness merely as a glorified England academy.
Edwards has been this season's "stuff you" signing, the quick bowler brought in on a Kolpak contract to widespread doubts that he could do the job, but who has responded with verve and skill to become Hampshire's leading wicket-taker, his 41 wickets coming at 21.53 each. Without Edwards, Hampshire would have been doomed long ago: at least he has helped them drag it out to the final days.
He is likely to fail. On this evidence at least, Hampshire, once the overseas new-ball pair of Edwards and Ryan McLaren are repelled, have little to commend them. The third seamer, Gareth Berg, is doing as much as can be expected in a late flowering; Ryan Stevenson, introduced into a relegation scrap in September, so far has nods of respect and two wickets at 100 each. Perhaps his time will come. It will be a surprise if it comes this week.
Hampshire could have done without Nottinghamshire's recovery from 247 for 7, a recovery fashioned largely by Stuart Broad and Brett Hutton, as the final three wickets added 93. Having won the toss and inserted on a sunny day, but with dampness underfoot, they would have hoped to complete the job far sooner than that.
Dale Benkenstein, Hampshire's coach, said: "If you are looking at what we were aiming to do, then we've managed to get full bowling points, so that's a positive. But it wasn't our best performance and having put them in, a score of around 300 should have been more realistic".
Maximum batting points will be more taxing. They have faced one ball and lost one wicket - the nightwatchman Stevenson, a victim for the Stuart Broad / Chris Read combo.
Trailing Sussex by 16 points and Somerset by 18, Hampshire's task is a daunting one if they are to avoid relegation to Division Two of the Championship. They must beat Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge - a Nottinghamshire side with designs on second place - and then hope one of their companions in distress suffer, at best, an unproductive draw to send them down instead.
Edwards, who took eight wickets against Nottinghamshire in a pre-season match in his native Barbados, relished another foray in more important circumstances, summoning an opening burst that brought him three wickets inside his first five overs and signalling that Hampshire would not depart Division One easily.
But Wessels and Steven Mullaney responded by adding 115 either side of lunch. Hampshire missed one opportunity to part them as a regulation nick from Mullaney, on 52, was put down by Sean Ervine at first slip, off Edwards. He made only made six more before being bowled as he tried to whip Liam Dawson's off spin to leg.
For Nottinghamshire, and a few neutrals besides, interest centred upon the debut of Billy Root, younger brother of Joe, national cricket hero. He has been loosely characterised as the less driven younger brother (aren't they always) but he walks to the wicket with the same stiff-legged farmer's gait before preventing all further comparisons by batting left-handed. There were fewer to watch him than watched Joe in the Ashes on the same ground a month earlier - this late in the season battle-hardened county supporters wear the toughened, slightly-glazed expression of walkers nearing the end of the Pennine Way , but on debuts you tend not to gaze around too much.
He played confidently for his 37, until an edge from Gareth Berg was smartly taken by Ervine, who responded to the ball rebounding out of James Vince's hand at second slip.
Wessels escaped a tough chance to the wicketkeeper, Aam Wheater, on 16, drove effortlessly and went past 1,000 Championship runs for the season, reaching his hundred from 153 balls, having hit 13 fours and a six. Straight after tea he tamely clipped Ervine to midwicket and three overs later Read was bowled by Edwards, shouldering arms. Hampshire had lost three wickets for just 11 runs.
Edwards' most eye-catching wicket was a big inswinger to bowl Chris Read. He claimed his third five-wicket haul of the season when he induced Broad into hooking into the hands of Ryan McLaren at fine leg, after also making 37. Jake Ball was bowled on the retreat before Hutton was last out, lifting McLaren into the deep to depart for 46.
Among his three new-ball wickets was Brendon Taylor, who casually flicked into the hands of Gareth Berg at midwicket. It is a long season and Taylor has not survived it well. County cricket, judging by his stats, does not look as appealing to him as it did when he decided to abandon Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has apparently developed a habit of delivering the same speech. Without a half-century since midsummer, Taylor is delivering the same innings. A winter's reassessment lies ahead.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps