Edwards' happy hour gives Hampshire a lifeline
After five months of toil, during which relegation has been on the agenda virtually every time their attention has turned to the Championship, Hampshire transformed their outlook in little more than an hour on a chilly, sunlit September's day at Trent Bridge.
Their improvement has come over weeks, if not months, but the anticipation that it might actually bring rewards with the retention of their Division One status descended suddenly as seven Nottinghamshire wickets disappeared for 34 on the third afternoon, and they found themselves looking at a run chase of 200 when at one time 300 had seemed nearer the mark.
The architect of Hampshire's escape act was Fidel Edwards, whose four wickets brought him 10 for 145 in the match and 45 for the season at 20.88. Swinging the ball at pace, overflowing with attacking intent, he was again a joy to watch. His reward is a new one-year contract - quite whgat division still to be confirmed.
So buoyed were they by the transformation that they scooted to 89 without loss by the close of the third day. You could sense the happiness as Michael Carberry and Jimmy Adams struck the boundary boards. Only 112 more needed. They would have to play poorly to lose it from here. Did we carelessly observe on these pages two days ago that it was a "hopeless cause"? Yes we sort of did, accidentally. There may have to be retractions.
Giles White, Hampshire's director of cricket, said: "It's been a brilliant day really. You look back over the course of it and everyone has contributed. It's been a brilliant team effort and it's put us in a strong position. It's been nip and tuck all the way through. It's been a real battle, we've shown discipline and courage and it's worked out that we're in the box seat now but obviously we've got to finish the job.
"Fidel has been fantastic for us this year - he's bowled with a lot of pace and know-how in varying conditions and we're delighted to have him with us again next season."
But there is still Sussex, lurking 80 miles north. They have not yet abandoned hope at Headingley. Since Yorkshire won their second successive title, their authority has lessened and Sussex might yet escape defeat. If they do, Hampshire will go down, however thumping their victory at Trent Bridge. All they can do is dispense with Nottinghamshire and wait. They will probably be back home before their fate is known.
Hampshire's four-strong seam attack has its limitations. All four bowlers are in their first season with the club, patched together for a return to Division One. But they have held together stoutly. Their display brought signs of unrest from Nottinghamshire supporters, etched in dark overcoats - arms folded, brows folded yet tighter - against the gleaming white of the Trent Bridge stands, who had expected to watch their county secure runners-up spot.
"You're not playing for England now Broady," bawled one spectator as Stuart Broad's three overs in response with the new ball disappeared for 26. Hampshire would be relieved about that. The last time he played for England here, Broad took 8 for 15 and bowled out Australia by lunch on the first day.
As shouts of discontent go, this one lacked a certain historical accuracy. Why, they even made a t-shirt to celebrate it, a glorious collection of dots and wickets. Hampshire might make a Great Escape t-shirt if they pull this one off, if only so the chairman and benefactor, Rod Bransgrove, can wear it, along with headband, when his band plays in the celebratory gig.
At 127 for 2, with Brendon Taylor and Samit Patel together, Nottinghamshire had a platform for victory. Hampshire doubts gathered. Patel looked bent upon a long match-winning innings to mark his England call-up. But Gareth Berg breached his defences, also bowled Wessels and finished with a highly respectable season, a retort to Middlesex's decision to release him in the belief that his full recovery from shoulder surgery was unlikely.
Then came Edwards. He removed Chris Read, Billy Root and Broad within the space of seven deliveries as he reversed the old ball, laying to waste the good work of Brendon Taylor, whose 90 from 151 balls represented more than half the runs scored off the bat, took him past 1000 Championship runs in his final innings and re-established his dominant form of early season.
Taylor had threatened to break Liam Dawson's holding operation, lifting the spinner for a mighty straight six to start the afternoon, and cover driving Edwards to distraction before deliberately knocking him over the slips to reach his half-century. But his innings came to grief when he tried to drive Dawson inside-out over mid-off and failed to clear James Vince. There was lots of self-recrimination afterwards, but remove the consequencec - the fact that it opened up the innings for Edwards - and the shot itself looked acceptable enough.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps